Sad lessons learned: Pandora, part 1

When I put Pandora’s face on the internet in 2010 and encouraged strangers to adopt her, I was trying to help. Even though I never got to know her very well, and I wasn’t personally involved in her adoption, when I look at Pandora’s picture now I see a spectacular personal failure.

After Pandora got lost in 2012, several months after her adoption from a private shelter in Daejeon, many people pitched in to look for her. Well, we got nowhere—she was gone without a trace. I’d like to think a kind person took her in and gave her the good home she deserved, but we all know that’s probably not what happened.

Pandora’s early years: The Daejeon shelter crisis

Pandora the Jindo mix spent her early life at a small private shelter in Daejeon. Her original name was Ilsuni. Her rescuer, Jung Nan-young, had purchased several Jindo mixes to save them from being turned into meat.

Either Pandora was born at the shelter, or Ms. Jung rescued her when she was very young—probably, she came to live with Ms. Jung a year or so before the shelter crisis of 2007-2008. That’s when a flurry of publicity in the English-language media led me and many other foreigners to join in weekly volunteer visits. (I didn’t go every week, but I went every month or so starting in 2008.)

Big dogs are hard to place, and Ms. Jung couldn’t let the Jindos run free in a house with dozens of tiny dogs. Pandora and the other Jindos had to live outside. In spite of the publicity that surrounded the shelter crisis, years went by and they were still homeless and still in dilapidated dog houses. They moved twice, first to another shelter in Asan at the end of 2008 and then back to Daejeon, where they were reunited with Ms. Jung in 2010.

I’m the one who named her Pandora. Ms. Jung had two Jindos named Ilsuni and two Jindos named Isuni, and we all thought the duplicate names would confuse potential adopters. 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 Pandora whose pretty face drew the most interest.

LA-unbound

Around 2010, two US residents expressed interest in adopting Pandora. We reached out to an experienced Jindo rescuer in the US, who provided advice and screened applications for us. She advised us that one applicant was unsuitable, so the volunteer group went with the second applicant, a woman based in Los Angeles who’d just lost her beloved Jindo to bloat. But before the adoption could proceed, the LA adopter decided to rescue a dog from her local pound instead. No one blamed her, and I don’t blame her either—but it was bad news for Pandora.   

A happy future?

In early 2012, when Pandora was probably about 5 years old, she got adopted and moved to Seoul. It seemed like a miracle. The Daejeon volunteers working with Ms. Jung requested an update after giving Pandora some time to settle in, and we were all assured that she was doing well.

Pandora escapes

Then, in May 2012, Pandora escaped from her adopter’s 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 pound north of the city. The pound was called Karma (short for Korea Animal Rescue and Management Association) and it had a reputation as a high-kill facility, but the adopter couldn’t travel there right away. She was going out of town for the weekend.

So I took the subway and the bus to a small town north of Seoul, and I saw the white Jindo waiting for her family to come back for her. The problem was that I didn’t know Pandora well enough to make a positive ID. Neither did anyone else, with the exception of Ms. Jung and the 20-something English teacher who’d adopted her.

The dog wasn’t Pandora. The stray Jindo at Karma 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 the pound 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, the complaints were appalling. Didn’t her guardian understand how much danger she was in?

The search begins

Together, we started a Facebook group and a Facebook page dedicated to finding Pandora. A Korean volunteer placed ads on two lost-and-found sites, Angel.or.kr and Animal.go.kr, and we all 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 might have traveled. We created posters and asked volunteers to distribute them far and wide—to deliver them to vet clinics, post them on walls and bulletin boards, and display them at apartment complexes and subway stations. We worked with a pet detective based in Canada to map out routes she might 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 some 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, without wasting time, and to my great embarrassment I could barely keep up with her.

Hope fades: No sign of Pandora

June 2012 was a very active month in the search for Pandora.

But it became clear that there were 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.

Lessons learned

Pandora’s tragic disappearance was a hard lesson for all of us. Here are a few points to keep in mind for anyone in a similar situation:

  • 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.
  • There are some amazing resources out there, and some amazing people. We really 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 of the adopter. In the initial phase of the search, this was extremely counterproductive because we desperately needed her cooperation. I’ll say now, though, that I’m very disappointed in her unwillingness to take part in group postering events and to visit more shelters more often.
  • 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 other lost dog cases here in Korea, mass postering was the deciding factor that brought the dogs home.

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