Skip to main content

For the love of dogs

Members of a Korean Rotary club adopt a pup-friendly service project

Skip to main content


Wearing protective suits, 20 young people open the gate of a fenced yard and enter. Immediately, dozens of large dogs swarm around them. 

The dogs wag their tails, lick people’s hands, spin in place, and playfully nudge their heads against the visitors. Their overwhelming joy threatens to knock people over. It’s just another day at this animal shelter in Icheon, Korea.

“You must wear protective suits because these dogs love you so much,” says Song-Hee Lim, the executive secretary/director of the Rotary E-Club of MZ, Gyeonggi, Korea. “They get so excited that their shed fur sticks to you, and sometimes your skin can be scratched.”

The animal shelter the club members are visiting is called Yugigyeon Soop, meaning Forest for Abandoned Dogs, and specializes in large dogs. The shelter provides a home for around 100 animals and hosts breeds such as Korea’s native Jindos, shepherds, Siberian huskies, and Labrador retrievers. For most of the dogs, though, their exact breed is unknown. Many also are missing limbs or have eye injuries.

Jun-Sung Park, the owner of the shelter, initially ran a dog hotel. Sometimes people abandoned dogs there, and Park began to care for them. One dog became two, two became 10, and eventually Park established an animal shelter.

“There are not many shelters that accept big dogs – especially dogs like the ones here. They have nowhere else, having been in fights or gotten injured,” Park says. Although Park was initially able to find homes for a few of the dogs, most of the adopted dogs were eventually returned to the shelter. 

“I don’t want them to go through that again,” he says. “I just hope these dogs can live happily here until the end of their days.”

Members of the Rotary E-Club of MZ, named for millennials and Generation Z, regularly visit a dog shelter in Icheon, Korea, to play with and train the dogs. The club members also clean the shelter and donate dog food and blankets.

Credit: Seong Joon Cho

It can be difficult to own large dogs in Korea, especially because most people live in apartment complexes. Yards and other open spaces are rare, leading to a high abandonment rate for large dogs. Finding new homes for them, even shelters or temporary foster situations, is challenging. 

Even those that are adopted from shelters are frequently returned – and often euthanized. From April to October 2023, 25% of the small and medium-size dogs (15 kilograms and under) received at animal shelters in Gyeonggi Province were euthanized, compared with 39% of dogs weighing over 15 kilograms (about 33 pounds).

Although they were abandoned by their owners, the dogs at the shelter are still friendly around people and obviously enjoy their company. The club members clean the facility, change bedding, and donate supplies. Most important, they spend time with the dogs. 

“What dogs need most is human touch,” Park says. 

Today, the members have brought heartworm and parasite medicine for the dogs. They’ve also brought paper towels, garbage bags, and blankets and carpets they’ve collected. 

“We need lots of blankets. Even if we lay one down, it won’t last a month before the dogs have torn it apart,” Lim says. “Because it carries the scent of people, it seems to provide the dogs with emotional comfort.”

The E-Club of MZ, named for millennials and Generation Z, was founded in 2022 with members in their 20s and 30s and a focus on service. 

“Young people may not have a lot of money, but they have energy. Our club’s motto is Taking Action for Service,” Lim says. “Learning that this animal shelter cares for dogs that have been abandoned multiple times, until their last breath, we decided to volunteer here quarterly.”

Kyungmin Park, the club’s service projects chair and the owner of a plumbing company, appreciates Rotary’s approach to vocational service. 

“I plan to discuss with the shelter’s owner if there are any facility-related needs,” he says. “Our club includes plumbing experts like me and interior specialists. There might be tasks that are easy for us but are essential for those who need them.”

As the time approaches when club members need to leave the shelter, there’s a sense of sadness among both the volunteers and dogs. The dogs gather near the club members, who extend their hands past the fence one more time to touch the animals.

“We need to meet in person and do hands-on volunteer work to attract young people,” says Kyungmin Park, petting one of the dogs. “We’ve only just started, but we’ll improve year by year.”

– Jan 2024

Related stories

Lending a helping paw to veterans

The pain of losing a pet