“Don’t give up. 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).”
The online message was from a stranger who signed his name Pablo. It was 2012, and a group of former and current shelter volunteers were desperately searching for a lost Jindo mix named Pandora. So many of us wanted to find her.
Pablo and his dog were 45 minutes from home when she got startled by low-flying fighter jets and wriggled out of her collar, said the message.
“My life turned completely upside down,” he wrote. He started a website, put up flyers and drove all over the city where he lived.
“It is very hard work. 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 found his dog, but precious Pandora is still missing after 10 years. None of us wanted to give up looking, but months went by with no reliable leads. We didn’t have enough volunteers who could visit pounds in person every day. The woman who’d adopted Pandora a few months earlier was uncommunicative, and Pandora didn’t have a collar or a microchip when she disappeared.
Pandora at the Daejeon shelter
Pandora’s rescuer, Jung Nan-young, ran a small private shelter in Daejeon. I don’t know if Pandora was born there. If not, Ms. Jung must have rescued her when she was very young — probably about a year before the shelter crisis of 2007 and 2008. That’s when a flurry of publicity in the English-language media led me and many other foreigners to join weekly volunteer visits. I didn’t go every week, but I went every month or so starting in 2008 and made occasional visits as late as 2011.
Ms. Jung had purchased a group of Jindos to save them from being turned into meat, but big dogs are hard to place. She couldn’t let them run free in a house with dozens of tiny dogs, so they had to live outside. The Jindos moved to another private shelter in Asan, South Chungcheong Province, at the end of 2008, and then in 2010 Ms. Jung brought them back to Daejeon. Despite everyone’s efforts to promote them, years went by and they were still in dilapidated doghouses.
Me and Pandora
When I put Pandora’s face on the internet in 2010 and encouraged strangers to adopt her, I was trying to help. I never got to know her very well, and I wasn’t personally involved in her adoption, but that online posting connects us forever.
I’m the one who named her Pandora. Her original name was Ilsuni. Ms. Jung had two Jindos named Ilsuni and two Jindos named Isuni, and we all thought the similar names would confuse potential adopters. I thought of the new name after talking to some of her volunteer supporters.
Pandora was a skittish dog and wouldn’t walk with me when I tried to take her out. But when I posted the Jindos’ pictures online, it was her pretty face that drew the most interest.
Finding Pandora a home
Around 2010, two US residents expressed interest in adopting Pandora. We reached out to Kristen Edmonds, an experienced Jindo rescuer in the US, who provided advice and screened applications for us. She felt that one applicant was unsuitable but approved an applicant in Los Angeles who’d just lost her beloved Jindo to bloat (also called gastric torsion or a twisted stomach). But before the adoption could go ahead, the LA adopter decided to rescue a dog from her local pound instead. That was great news for the other dog, but bad news for Pandora.
In early 2012, when Pandora was probably about 5 years old, she got adopted and moved to Seoul. It was a miracle. The Daejeon volunteers requested an update after giving Pandora some time to settle in, and we were all assured she was doing well.
But in May 2012, Pandora escaped from her new home through an open door. Many of her supporters immediately offered to help. I went online and discovered a white female Jindo listed at a high-kill facility north of the city. The place was called Karma, short for the Korea Animal Rescue and Management Association.
The adopter told us she couldn’t check the pound right away. She was going out of town for the weekend.
So that weekend I took the subway and the bus to a small town north of Seoul. I saw the white Jindo waiting for her family, but I didn’t know Pandora well enough to make a positive ID. Neither did anyone else except for Ms. Jung and the young woman who’d adopted Pandora.
The dog in the pound wasn’t Pandora. She was reunited with her family the same day I saw her.
A second dog appeared on the Karma list, and volunteers convinced Pandora’s adopter of the urgency of the situation. After some hesitation, she traveled to Karma to see the dog, who turned out not to be Pandora. The adopter complained about the distance from the city to the pound, and about how long it had taken to travel there and back. To those of us who’d known Pandora at the shelter, this reaction was unsettling. Didn’t her guardian understand how much danger she was in?
The search for Pandora
Together, we started a Facebook group and a Facebook page dedicated to finding Pandora. A volunteer placed ads on two lost-and-found sites, Angel.or.kr and Animal.go.kr, and many of us checked the listings frequently. We offered a 500,000 won reward for her safe return.
Pandora was lost in northern Seoul, but there was no way of knowing how far she may have traveled. We created posters and asked volunteers to distribute them far and wide — deliver them to vet clinics, post them on walls and bulletin boards, and display them at apartment complexes and subway stations. We worked with Liz Oliver, a pet detective in Canada, to map out routes Pandora could have taken and strategic locations for posters. We announced a “Pandora Postering Caper” on a Saturday when we thought we could get a good volunteer turnout.
After talking to neighbors, we thought we had reason to believe Pandora was still out there, living as a stray not far from the point of escape. One volunteer couple went to the area late at night and camped out with a makeshift trap.
And one Saturday, Ms. Jung came all the way from Daejeon to look for Pandora in northern Seoul. She put up posters expertly, one after the other in rapid fire, and I could barely keep up with her.
In June 2012 there was an active search for Pandora, but we soon learned of at least three white Jindos in the neighborhood who weren’t lost. And at least one of those dogs, Jinsuni, had run loose in the area around the same time Pandora escaped. White Jindo mixes turned up in pounds every day, all over the country, and it wasn’t fair to ask Ms. Jung to visit every pound in person when she lived in a different city with 50-plus dogs.
We tried to educate ourselves about lost dog behavior and kept reminding ourselves of the power of persistence. 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 kind strangers. One volunteer called a TV station to see if a popular show called “Dongmul Nongjang” (“Animal Farm”) would help us find Pandora 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.
A hospice for Wansun
That summer a white female Jindo who looked a lot like Pandora 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 — could she?
Lost Jindos have been known to travel great distances. Maybe Pandora tried to find her way back to Daejeon and took a wrong turn? Ms. Jung traveled to Jeonju to find out.
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.
A perfect match?
Months went by. Many, many white Jindos were picked up in different cities throughout Korea during that time, and Ms. Jung couldn’t 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, a volunteer named Diana Carolina Rivera Bocanegra came from Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province, 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 mix 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. Or 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 Stone Laiacona posted the dog’s picture on social media alongside a picture of Pandora at the shelter.
The faces were identical — right down to the dappled pink and black nose. The resemblance was so remarkable that I decided to contact Ms. Jung, even though it was late and 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, I called Deborah, and 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 longtime caregiver after eight months on the streets? But Ms. Jung said the dog wasn’t Pandora.
Soon 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 when I asked around for other people’s perspectives on the search for Pandora and what we could all learn. 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 in response to my questions for this blog post in 2019. “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 stories about her time with Gabbey and her next Jindo, Lobo, who lived at a shelter in Korea for three years before she adopted him. A volunteer courier delivered him to the US in 2012.
“We absolutely adore him,” Helen wrote. “(L)ots of love and patience in his training.”
Even though Helen lived halfway around the world during the search for Pandora, she regularly searched the Karma website looking at all the lost white Jindos.
“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 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.”
Lobo passed away in August 2021. Early this year Helen adopted Koya, a Jindo mix who was abandoned with a group of other dogs near a construction site in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province.
“Losing Lobo was incredibly tough on our family,” Helen wrote in May 2022. “We were so depressed without him in our lives. Koya helped fill that void … we really needed her healing spirit.”
Jeong Buyun of Beagle Rescue Network
In the summer of 2012 Jeong Buyun 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 for graduate school. 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 became the main contact point and started handling phone calls.
When I wrote to her in 2019 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.
When I lived in northern Seoul I used to look around hoping for a glimpse of Pandora in a park, along a stream, or maybe under a bridge. When I passed people walking leashed white Jindos, I’d ask the dogs’ names and ages. “Boy or girl?” I asked in broken Korean.
Once, I passed Jinsuni — the dog Pandora’s neighbors had seen running loose in the neighborhood in the early days of the search. But Jinsuni was with her family that day, walking nicely on a leash.
Helen wrote in a 2019 message, “I had always hoped and prayed that Pandora was taken in (and) loved by someone as she was such a beauty.” It’s a hope that we all share.
Some rescues have strict requirements for adopters — many insist on home checks and won’t even consider out-of-town applicants. I can understand those policies a lot better now. Here are a few thoughts for anyone looking for a lost furbaby:
- Many people care. Even total strangers, both Korean and foreign, contacted us to offer support and encouragement.
- Not everyone cares. Posters get torn down, often faster than volunteers can put them up. Many places won’t allow you to put up posters, even to look for a lost dog.
- We could have made better use of resources such as the Missing Animal Response Network and Mission Reunite. And we could have acted on more of the advice provided by Liz Oliver, a Canadian pet detective who’s trained to find lost and scared animals.
- Despite warnings to tone their comments down, many of Pandora’s online supporters were very open in their criticism. In the initial phase of the search, this was counterproductive because we desperately needed the adopter’s help.
- We should have been more realistic about how much ground we could cover. Instead of relying on weekend volunteers, I wish we’d paid professionals to distribute posters in mass numbers. It might have made all the difference — in at least one other lost dog case here in Korea, mass postering was the deciding factor that brought the dog home.
Recommended reading: ‘Finding Gobi’
For a heartwarming 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 Gobi to join his family, but disaster struck — Gobi escaped from a sitter 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 helped him comb the city and put up posters everywhere.
Dion waited with Gobi in Beijing until she was cleared to fly overseas. He chose a longer, more expensive route to make her flight more comfortable. He even took a leave of absence from work to track Gobi down and bring her home. How many of us could step up like that?
Recommended reading: ‘Where the Lost Dogs Go’
This memoir by Susannah Charleson offers a glimpse into the work of a pet detective, someone who tracks down lost animals — in this case with the help of a Maltese rescue baby. We follow the author from childhood through middle age, through family tragedies and painful personal losses, and see how Charleson discovered her passion for lost animals. She shares her valuable insight into lost animal behavior and the factors that can make or break a successful search.
An earlier version of this blog post was published in two parts in 2019. It has been refreshed and updated for 2022.
The featured photo is courtesy of Park Hyunjoo, one of Pandora’s longtime supporters.
Ms. Jung is still taking care of dogs and cats at her small shelter in Daejeon. Do a Facebook search for “Friends of Daejeon Paws / Angel House / 천사의 집” to find out how you can help.