In late 2014, Humane Society International began working with a dog meat farmer in the suburbs of Seoul, South Korea. The farmer had expressed interest in getting out of the business, and HSI officials were working to help him.
Just before Christmas, they solidified an agreement: HSI helped turn a greenhouse area that had housed the animals into more room for the farmer to expand his blueberry crops. And in turn, all 23 dogs were freed from their cages and sent to the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria in Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C. It was there, on a snowy January evening, amid the bustle of volunteers and television reporters, that the shelter’s deputy director found herself reaching into a transport carrier to let the final dog out.
“She happened to be the last dog out of the carrier, and I happened to be the person who pulled her out,” remembers Abbie Hubbard. “I just instantly fell in love with her. … I don’t know what it was. It was just, she was meant to be mine.”
The dog, just 5 months old then, was shy at first. She was slow to emerge from her carrier, but she licked Hubbard’s hand. And once Hubbard pulled her out, she melted into her arms. Later that night, when everything was quiet, Hubbard sat with her in her kennel.
They’ve been inseparable ever since.
“She’s just the sweetest thing,” Hubbard says. “I mean, she literally completes my life. I just can’t imagine life without her; she’s just the best companion in the world.” Hubbard named her Minnow. No particular reason, really. It just kind of came to her. But Minnow has grown into her name—she now loves splashing in the water on walks around a nearby lake.
She’s still shy, but with patience, she will warm up to other people. “And then once she does,” Hubbard says, “You’re in. You’re in her circle.”
That circle continues to grow wider. Minnow adores kittens, licking and snuggling them, and she’s become a valuable part of the operation when Hubbard fosters other animals. One time, an animal control officer brought a days-old chicken into the shelter. When Hubbard eventually brought him home to foster, Minnow allowed the chick to cuddle up in her tail. The two would play outside together, and Minnow even found a creative solution to help the chicken navigate the stairs in Hubbard’s townhouse.
“He would jump on Minnow’s back,” Hubbard says, “And Minnow would give him a ride to get up the stairs.”
It took Minnow some time to master those stairs herself. When she arrived, she was suffering from a torn ligament in her leg—the result, her vets are convinced, of her back leg falling through the flooring of her wire cage on the dog meat farm.
Hubbard has seen photos of Minnow’s past life—a “hell,” she calls it. And she tries hard to never miss a chance to share her story or shine a light on the issue of dog meat farms. “Unimaginable” is another word she’s used to describe her dog’s past, and she remembers wondering if maybe the horror of Minnow’s story would lessen as time went on.
“But it honestly shocks me more every day, when I stop and think about it,” she says. “It almost builds. And maybe that’s because she’s my family, and we have this life—these last two years have been literally the best two years of my life.”
On her desk at work, Hubbard keeps a photo of a converted dog meat farm. That farmer now grows blueberries and chili peppers, and the photo shows a field full of peppers. She loves looking at the image.
“If you compare it to the photo of the dogs in the very same spot—the picture of the dogs, it’s depressing and dark, and it’s not full of life,” Hubbard says. “And then you look at the chili peppers, it’s light and it is full of life. And it’s such a great testament to the change that’s also occurred on the farm.”
Underneath that desk, Minnow spends weekdays snuggled on a green bed. She’s a regular at the shelter, greeting visitors with her paws up on the front desk, charming the volunteers, playing with other dogs. And if she ever hears the mews of kittens, she has to go see them.
“She’s happy. She’s just a happy dog,” Hubbard says. “And I feel like she just really enjoys life. So I just constantly think about that, as I look at her smile and enjoy something, I’m so glad that she has a life—and I’m glad it’s with me.”