Lessons learned, part 2: The search for Pandora

When I posted Pandora’s story on a message board in 2012, one memorable response came from a person who signed his name Pablo. It was addressed to all Pandora’s caregivers and friends.

“Don’t give up,” he wrote. “You can find Pandora. She is out there and she is waiting for you. She is trying to get home. I lost my own dog when I foolishly left her on a leash unattended for a few minutes in front of a grocery store (outside Korea).”

Pablo and his dog were 45 minutes from home when his dog got startled by low-flying fighter jets and wriggled out of her collar.

“My life turned completely upside down,” Pablo wrote. He started a website, put up flyers and drove all over the city where he lived.

“It is very hard work,” he wrote. “Not least of all psychologically because of all the ignorant people that will directly or indirectly say things like ‘It’s just a dog, for heaven’s sake’ and ‘She probably wants to be free anyway’ and ‘Wow, it’s such a big joke that you lost your dog. Ha! Ha! Ha!’ and ‘She’s gone. It’s a huge city. It’s over. Get over it.’ Well, screw those people. Your dog is out there, and she is trying to find you just like you are trying to find her.”

Pablo’s story had a happier ending than Pandora’s.

“I FOUND MY DOG AFTER NINE DAYS OF WORKING HER WEBSITE AND POSTING FLYERS LIKE A MADMAN DAY AND NIGHT. SHE WAS VERY HAPPY TO SEE ME AND COME HOME. She had run into a street many blocks away, been hit by a car (that drove away), and she had been taken in by a kind older woman (May God bless her forever) who found her lying in blood on the side of the street and took her into her modest home. A fourth-grade niece of the older lady came across one of the flyers and ran to her aunt’s house. Many people find their dogs after much longer times. DON’T GIVE UP!”

We didn’t want to give up, but with no leads and not enough volunteers who could visit pounds in person every day, we eventually reached an impasse. It didn’t help that Pandora wasn’t wearing a collar or a microchip when she disappeared.

Hope was fading, but still. We checked lost-and-found listings and hoped for a miracle. 

A hospice for Wansun

Throughout this process I learned a lot about lost dog behavior and how important it is to be persistent. Both Koreans and foreigners pitched in to help. Some of the searchers were Daejeon shelter volunteers, a few were US-based Jindo fans, and some were just kind strangers. One volunteer called a local TV station to see if a popular show called “Dongmul Nongjang” (“Animal Farm”) would help us find her and televise what we hoped would be a feel-good success story. 

With no leads, though, the TV station didn’t see much promise in the story.  

The summer after Pandora got lost, a white female Jindo who looked a lot like her turned up in a city shelter in Jeonju, South Jeolla Province, halfway across the country from the point of escape. She couldn’t be Pandora, we thought.

Could she?

Lost Jindos have been known to travel great distances. Maybe Pandora tried to find her way back to Ms. Jung’s shelter in Daejeon and took a wrong turn?

But the dog wasn’t Pandora, and she was very sick. Ms. Jung was too compassionate to let Pandora’s lookalike die in a city pound, so she brought her back to Daejeon and named her Wansun. While Ms. Jung was at the Jeonju pound, she saved a second dog too.

Wansun showed signs of recovering under Ms. Jung’s care, and many shelter volunteers fell in love with her, but a few weeks later she had a seizure and had to be hospitalized.

Wansun didn’t make it. At least her life ended in a loving environment and not a miserable city pound. But it must have been heartbreaking for Ms. Jung to nurse her back to health only to lose her like that.

Pandora’s doppelgänger?

Months went by. Many, many white Jindos were picked up in different cities throughout Korea during that time, and we couldn’t ask Ms. Jung to cross the country to look at them all.

In the fall of 2012 I moved to Pandora’s old neighborhood. She’d been missing since May and there were no leads, but I forced myself to at least put up posters at local vet clinics, on lampposts and on apartment complex bulletin boards.

Just before Christmas 2012, a volunteer named Diana came all the way to Seoul from Bucheon to help me put up more — but after so much time it felt like an exercise in futility.

One night that winter, I was about to go to bed when I happened to check the lost-and-found site Angel.or.kr and saw that a female Jindo had been picked up in Seoul’s Dongdaemun district, some distance southwest of the point of escape. Pandora could easily have traveled along the train tracks. Then again, she could have run south along the Jungnang stream and back north along the Cheonggye stream.

I shared the link and a Daejeon volunteer named Deborah Fallon Stone posted the dog’s picture on social media alongside a picture of Pandora at the shelter.

The faces were identical — right down to the pretty dappled nose that was just about half black and half pink. The resemblance was so remarkable that I decided to contact Ms. Jung, even though it was late and even though we could barely communicate.

Ms. Jung called the contact number and arranged to come to Seoul with Deborah in a van taxi with a dog crate in the back. Deborah’s friend sent me the address so I could be there for the happy reunion.

That night, a taxi dropped me off in a deserted alley in an old part of town with only a few small shops in sight. I waited, and then I called Deborah. Then I started walking around.

Ms. Jung hugged me when she saw me. The three of us went door to door, checking house numbers in a convoluted maze of old-style Korean homes. When we found the address, Deborah took a picture of Ms. Jung at the door — she was hoping to document a happy reunion too.

But the pretty dog showed no signs of recognizing any of us. She pulled back, scared. Maybe she’d forgotten her beloved rescuer after eight months on the streets? But Ms. Jung said the dog wasn’t Pandora.

So there was a new dog named Apple at the Daejeon shelter. Ms. Jung had one more mouth to feed, and Pandora was still lost.

Helen T. Kim of Jindo Tales

Apple eventually got adopted instead of being taken to a city pound and most likely killed. Helen T. Kim, one of Pandora’s longtime supporters, reminded me of that recently when I asked around for other people’s perspectives on the search for Pandora and what we could all learn. Helen was trying to be nice, to make me feel less bad about the failed search.

Helen is a California-based Jindo advocate and the author of two Jindo-themed children’s books. Her first adopted Jindo, Gabbey, came from Koreatown in Los Angeles and lived 14 years.

“He taught me everything about the breed,” she wrote recently in response to my questions for this blog post. “I was so shocked at how misunderstood they were and how people would use harsh tactics to train them.”

Helen’s website, Jindo Tales, is full of heartwarming stories about her time with Gabbey and with her current Jindo, 9-year-old Lobo.  

Lobo was 3 when Helen’s family adopted him from a private shelter in Asan, South Chungcheong Province. He was delivered to the US by a volunteer courier.

“We absolutely adore him,” Helen wrote. “(L)ots of love and patience in his training.”

Even though Helen lived halfway around the world when Pandora was missing, she was a great supporter of the efforts to find her. She wrote that she would regularly search the Korea Animal Rescue and Management Association’s website looking at all the lost white Jindos, hoping one would be Pandora.

“I actually learned a lot from that entire experience in terms of how to distribute flyers, use maps to create detailed search areas, etc.” 

One thing that definitely resonates, she wrote, is the importance of containing any newly adopted Jindo. This is something she always stresses in her Jindo rescue advocacy, especially in the first six months when a dog is still settling in with a new family.

“That means absolutely no off-leash activities and never leaving the dog unattended, even in a fenced yard. These are primitive dogs that take time to settle in their new environment and bond with their owners. You can never be too cautious when it comes to this breed; (t)hey are cunning and bright, which is why I adore them so.”

Jeong Buyun of Beagle Rescue Network

In the summer of 2012 Jeong Buyun (Buyun Leah Jeong on Facebook) was still an undergraduate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she eventually got her degree in civil and environmental engineering before coming back to Seoul to do her graduate work. She was on her summer break when she saw our requests for help on social media and volunteered to put up posters and help us talk to people in Pandora’s neighborhood. Eventually, she also became the main contact point and started handling phone calls.

Since that time, Buyun plunged headfirst into animal rescue and is now an active volunteer with the Beagle Rescue Network.

When I wrote to her recently to ask for her thoughts about Pandora, Buyun wrote back, “I feel bad she’s still missing.”

She also had some advice about prevention.

“Not to blame the adoptive family but I think it is very important to inform them about breed traits or habits before they adopt the dog. Also some basic things: Put up a dog gate to the door, no open door, having a collar with a name tag and microchip etc. These are all very important if someone is hoping to have a pet.”

But she quickly wrote another message to clarify that this advice was for everyone, not just for Pandora’s family.

We were very lucky to have Buyun helping us. You can click here to read more about Buyun’s work to help homeless animals.

Remembering Pandora

Helen wrote in a recent message, “I had always hoped and prayed that Pandora was taken in (and) loved by someone as she was such a beauty.” 

When I lived in northern Seoul I would look around hoping for a glimpse of Pandora in a park, along a stream, under a bridge. When I passed people walking leashed white Jindos, I would make sure to ask the dogs’ names and ages. “Boy or girl?” I’d ask in broken Korean.

Once, I passed Jinsuni — the dog many of Pandora’s neighbors had seen running loose in the neighborhood in the early days of the search. But now Jinsuni was with her family, walking nicely on a leash.

I’ll always wonder what happened to our sweet angel and what we could have done differently. This incident helped me understand why rescues do home checks, and why some won’t even consider out-of-town adoptions. It also made me want to learn more about missing animal detective work and the systems in place to reunite lost animals with their families. Pandora, you deserved better. 

Afterthoughts: ‘Finding Gobi’

For a happy story about a lost dog who is found safe, check out “Finding Gobi” by Dion Leonard. I got the audiobook version and listened to the whole thing in a day. 

It’s the true story of an Australian-born runner living in Scotland who traveled to China to compete in a marathon in the Gobi Desert. Along the way, a little dog won his heart and adopted him. He went back to Scotland and made arrangements for little Gobi to join his family, but disaster struck — Gobi escaped from the house where she was staying and was suddenly lost in China.

Dion didn’t give up. He didn’t just stay in Scotland and hope for the best. He flew back to China to look for her in person. What followed was an amazing tale of persistence on the part of Dion and the local animal advocates who combed the city with him and put up posters everywhere.

Chinese animal people and a few expats helped Dion check out leads, and just when he was about to dismiss a poor-quality photo he’d received, a local animal advocate convinced him that the lead was worth checking out. That’s how Dion was reunited with Gobi. She was injured, and he brought her to a vet in Beijing for treatment. (She’d been lost and found on the other side of the country.) Then, Dion waited with Gobi in Beijing until she was cleared to fly overseas. He chose a longer and more expensive route to make her flight more comfortable. He also took a leave of absence from work to track Gobi down and bring her home. 

That’s how Pandora’s story should have turned out. Why it didn’t is a question that will never be answered, but I’m thankful to everyone who helped us try.

I hope reading about Pandora won’t deter anyone from doing their utmost to track down a lost furbaby. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least three newly adopted dogs who got lost in Korea and were found safe even after time had passed and the situation seemed hopeless. But today I’m writing about Pandora and not those other lost dogs. I don’t want her to be forgotten.

Featured photo courtesy of Park Hyunjoo

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