Everything is new.
Not many dogs radiate that mantra quite like Irena. It’s obvious in every shining step she takes — whether it’s watching people play volleyball, thrilling as the ball soars high in the air.
Or the feeling of surf in her paws, as she runs along the shoreline.
“We go on walks and she is sniffing everything,” Mary-Chris Staples, who is fostering he r in Toronto, Canada, tells iHeartDogs. “Everything is brand new to her.”
All that newness can be downright overwhelming.
“After every walk, she just crashes,” Staples says. “Just completely exhausted, not just from the physical but the emotional and mental things that are affecting her.”
The only feeling that never overwhelms Irena is the love she finally found.
It was the one thing that Irena needed before everything else could come together.
Irena used to live in a cage stacked upon cages crammed inside a tiny space in South Korea.
Along with 13 other dogs, she was born and bred to be merchandise — with scant human contact outside of the hands that scattered scraps of food and filled water bottles.
“The owner was an animal hoarder,” Nami Kim, founder of Save Korean Dogs, tells iHeartDogs. “He used to own a meat farm. Then he decided to breed special breeds of dogs.”
They included Afghan hounds, bulldogs, and Irena’s very rare breed, the Central Asian Ovcharka.
Irena’s ears and tail had been removed, a sought-after look for a 4,000-year-old Russian breed that traditionally fought polar bears.
And, although she had been bred to sell as a pet, if that didn’t work out, Kim says the dog would have been sold for meat.
When Kim heard about the puppy mill in the city of Incheon, her organization began working with congressman Pyo Chang Won —who also chairs the country’s Animal Welfare Committee — to shut it down.
But the situation took a strange and unexpected turn.
“We brought (the case) to the authorities,” Kim explains. “And just when the court order was issued, the owner dropped dead.”
The dogs were freed at last, finding themselves in the care of Save Korean Dogs.
But Irena’s journey was just beginning. The giant dog, with the heart of a puppy, caught the eye of a Canadian organization called Safehome Animal Rescue.
The group, coordinating with its South Korean counterpart, managed to get her to Canada — and into the care of her foster mom, Mary-Chris Staples.
And since then, Irena’s brave new world has only grown bigger by the day. There’s beaches and volleyball and other dogs — although she’s still a little iffy on small dogs.
But she can’t get enough of those humans.
“What we have found out about her is that she loves people,” Staples says. “She is super, super friendly and runs up to everybody she sees and wants to be super affectionate.”
Not every dog has her day. Relying entirely on donations, Save Korean Dogs has rescued countless dogs from puppy mills and the meat trade, but countless more still suffer.
But today, Irena is having her day. Tomorrow looks pretty great too.
If you think you might like to take her on the next step of that journey — and give her forever home — get in touch with Safehome Animal Rescue here.
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