▲ Saturday visiting hours at the Ara-dong Animal Shelter are the only time that many of the abandoned pets get the chance to go for a walk. Photo by Susan Shain
Every Saturday morning, when most Jeju residents are exploring the island or sleeping off a late night, Kara Rickey heads to the local animal shelter to donate her time and love.
Clearly possessing a heart of gold, she says, “I actually really look forward to going. I wake up excited every Saturday morning.”
Rickey, who hails from Nashville, Tennessee, is an teacher at an English academy in Jeju City. She has owned pets since she was five years old, nurturing a lifelong love of animals.
She is no stranger to volunteer work either, having been involved in volunteering abroad — helping build a school in Belize and working at an orphanage for disabled children in Romania. Rickey also has a graduate degree in school counseling and three years of full-time work at a psychiatric hospital under her belt. It is not surprising, then, that she spends her Saturdays in an altruistic manner.
When she was offered the teaching job here in Korea, she was actually about to start volunteering at her local Humane Society. So, when she moved to Jeju in November 2010 and found herself looking for ways to meet new people, the shelter visits immediately appealed to her.
▲ Kara Rickey and friend. Photo by Susan Shain
“The first time I went, I knew I was going to be involved. I went home and emailed Katharine and told her to consider me fully committed while I’m here in Korea. Then I found out she was leaving in two months.”
Rickey was referring to Katharine Ruskke, who used to organize the shelter visits, along with Jeju resident Ali Shaker. Shaker started the program at the end of 2009. He had been looking for his lost dog at a municipal shelter and was saddened by the conditions.
“I thought of volunteering there and taking a dog or two for a walk once a week. But there were about 50 or so dogs there, so it broke my heart when I had to choose who would get a walk. I needed help and that’s how it all started!” explained Shaker, an English teacher from Canada.
The visiting times at the municipal shelter were quite limited though, so they began to look for other options.
Today, the volunteer program runs out of a private shelter in Ara-dong. A Korean high school teacher runs the shelter and funds it largely out of her own pocket, supplemented with some donations. The foreign volunteers have also organized a few fundraising events, using the money to fund new leashes and collars, as well as financing the occasional veterinarian visit.
Rickey now leads the volunteer efforts by diligently visiting the shelter each Saturday and recruiting other volunteers to accompany her. On average, Rickey sees four volunteers per week, though there are times when she has been the only one. The visits are held every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the summer and 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the winter.
Volunteers can walk dogs or play with cats during their visit and they are not required to stay the whole time. If they do not have access to a car, Rickey can pick them up at the Ara Elementary School bus stop, which is serviced by both the 500 and 502 buses. It is important to note that this is the only opportunity the dogs have to go for walks. If not enough volunteers show up, not all of the dogs will get walked that week.
▲ Photo by Susan Shain
The shelter houses approximately 75 dogs, 50 cats, and two raccoons, forcing the animals to live in pretty tight quarters. Some reside in cages, while the rest roam around the building or small yard. Most of the animals are abandoned there by their owners, while others were found wandering the streets. Despite the difficult living conditions, all of the dogs are friendly, energetic and adorable — a true testament to their species’ indefatigable good spirit. It is difficult not to take one, or all, of them home.
The adoption process is quite lax, but only one animal is adopted every month or two. Fostering animals, which is another option, has been quite popular with foreign teachers. Rickey, however, is beginning to rethink the process and wants to ensure that foster parents understand the nature of their commitment.
“It’s not a rent-a-pet situation. I would love to have more fosters, but it kind of disturbs me that people think it’s just a pet for while they’re here. Fostering is not keeping an animal until you leave and then giving it back to the shelter; it’s trying to find the animal a permanent home. When you foster, you take responsibility for that.”
For more information, Rickey urges potential foster parents to visit the Animal Rescue Korea Web site and click on “Foster” to understand the responsibilities involved.
She explained, “It’s traumatic for a dog to go to a loving home and then have to come back to the shelter. When they get out of there, it needs to be forever.”
Volunteers, however, are always welcome, and Rickey would love to see more people at the shelter each Saturday. The animals’ excitement to see Rickey, and to be held or walked by anyone, is palpable and touching. And though heartbreaking, visiting the shelter is definitely a volunteer experience with an immediate emotional reward for both the volunteer and animal.
“I go back every week because I get so much enjoyment from seeing how happy the dogs look after they get their walks. They don’t get much one-on-one human interaction and seeing their excitement is amazing. You will definitely feel really good. And, it’s a great way to meet other people on the island.”
If you are interested in volunteering or donating, please contact Rickey at firstname.lastname@example.org or search for the “Jeju Animals” group on Facebook.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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