March 26th, 2014 by Robin Dorman
According to a television program that aired in South Korea, in 2011, “South Korea’s Dangerous Health Food—Inconvenient Truth About Dog Meat,” physician Dr. PD Kim, said: “Currently, there is no law regulating the industry of dog slaughter, so the majority of dog slaughterhouses do not carry proper sanitary equipment.” The undercover team visited slaughterhouses throughout the country and unfailingly found unhygienic conditions. Such sites were alarmingly common: swarms of flies around dead dogs lying on filthy worktables; splattered stains of blood and bodily fluids from the slaughtering process covering the walls; butchers not wearing proper sanitary uniforms, and dogs being processed on grimy cement floors.
Charming Charlie, who was rescued from a slaughterhouse hidden in a residential neighborhood in Seoul, South Korea, is something of a philosopher. A Great Dane-Tosa mix, he is very curious about meeting new people, but still a bit fearful from his wretched past. He slowly approaches until close enough to “gaze into your soul,” as Courtney, Charlie’s guardian, laughingly tells it.
When Courtney first met Charlie at Family Dogs New Life Shelter, in Portland, which welcomed him with open arms in August, from South Korea, she sat down to greet him, and when he moved within an inch of her face, she wondered if he was going to take a bite out of her. But, no, this gentle prince of a dog simply gazed into her eyes for what seemed like an eternity, as if he wanted to know everything about her, especially if she was worthy of his trust. Courtney immediately saw that Charlie’s eyes were deep with love and, despite his uncontrollable trembling, and sheer terror and shrieking at the mere sight of a leash, she very soon brought him to his new home to live with her two dogs, Caleb and Libby.
Some of the trembling is unalloyed fear, but there are also the residual movements of canine distemper he may have picked up at a dog farm, dog market, or the slaughterhouse—all of them the unholiest and most disease-ridden of places—where he and seven others awaited their grisly end. The eight were gathered in a pile on a slab of cement, enveloped in an eerie darkness, faces looming out of the black depths, no food or water, soon to become meat for the nearby restaurants—who bear witness for the more than two million dogs and cats slaughtered every year for human consumption. Charlie was sitting in front, eyes staring out, waiting. And then IDA, along with CARE, rescued the condemned eight, a reprieve from ending up in the refrigerator with the hanging dogs and baby goats. The eight were gently helped out the door, past the metal chain for hanging the dogs by the neck, the electric shock probe for electrocution, the rotating drum and blowtorch for the removal of fur.
Now a universe away, the philosopher Charlie is also the comedic, jaunty Charlie, who holds his very large head up high when he’s in especially good spirits, which is more and more these days, and he has a bit of a swagger about him, an air of good cheer and an all-is-right-with-the-world demeanor. When he’s animated, he resembles a big cartoon dog, with his expression-filled face, announcing to the world that he is a dog of great enthusiasms and magnificent resiliency. His favorite activities include catching stuffed animals in his mouth from up high, running in the snow, and wrestling with his dog siblings—convivial, good-time Caleb, and his mentor and protector and muse, Libby, who teaches him how to be in the world. And being in love. His heart now belongs to a dog called Jane, whom he follows everywhere, wearing a grin the size of the sun.
When Courtney was trying to reach Charlie during the sadder days just after his arrival from South Korea, the period when he always seemed disconsolate, lying in a corner, shut down and unwilling to move, she worked through touch, and wrestling was the way in. Like Caleb and Libby, she got on the ground and grabbed and touched him. It eventually worked miracles.
He sometimes still shakes when he hears the dishwasher, the washing machine, a car backfiring, but the noises are becoming less menacing. Courtney takes him on daily long walks to habituate him to the outside world, where he is much admired for his striking good looks and sweetness. People simply fall in love with him. And Courtney is a fierce believer in creating challenges for him to transcend his worries and comfort level with the unexpected, the unaccustomed. If she decides to go a different route on a walk that he knows well, he will resist with a look that says, “that is not the right way home!” But she doesn’t yield, forcing him to expand his horizons. And it’s paid off. Courtney’s friends marvel that he isn’t the same frightening shell she first brought home. Although still a picky eater, he relishes his sweet potato treats with pure glee. And at night, he can’t wait to hop into his comfy dog bed. Because dogs, unlike humans, can’t pretend or lie, their body language tells us everything, and beautifully, unfathomably, Charlie is now one of the happiest dogs around.