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[Better Together] Cherishing the human-canine bond

Dog shelter volunteer group Hamggehagae wishes happiness for all dogs

June 18, 2024 - 16:37 By Lee Si-jin
A volunteer at a dog shelter opens a dog kennel in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province on June 15. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald)

ILSAN, Gyeonggi Province -- Hamggehagae is a club of dog shelter volunteers who have come together to care for abandoned dogs. Some are dog owners, some have no experience with dogs.

Moon Seung-bae, 40, who has been leading some 300 club members since 2020, shared that the group wishes to be of even the smallest help to the dogs, which deserve to be loved and happy.

“Hamggehagae has been doing different kinds of work related to abandoned dogs, ranging from building and maintaining dog shelters to taking dogs out for walks. Cleaning the shelters and washing the bowls are some of the basic activities that we have been doing for the past few years," Moon told The Korea Herald on June 15.

Moon Seung-bae, Hamggehagae leader, speaks in an interview with The Korea Herald at a local dog shelter in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province on June 15. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald)

“We get together every two weeks to visit the shelter that takes care of 50 to 100 abandoned dogs and put our utmost effort into giving a hand."

Moon emphasized, however, that producing visible results, like a new kennel, is not important.

“Being in the shelter, touching and communicating with the dogs brings huge comfort to the abandoned animals,” he explained.

A total of 13 Hamggehagae members visited a dog shelter in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province, on June 15.

After putting on dust-proof clothing and boots, the participants headed to different areas of the shelter looking as if they already knew what their jobs were for the day.

“The members don’t really have a specific program to follow. They can decide to do what they can do. Some people feel more comfortable taking a quick stroll with the dogs, while others prefer to wash the animals. We have some expert stylists to groom the dogs as well," Moon said.

“It may be difficult to figure out what you should do your first time. But, after supporting other crew members, you will naturally become part of this wonderful group and get moving even before thinking,” another member surnamed Lim said in sharing his experience.

Hamggehagae members wash an abandoned dog at a dog shelter in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald)
A Hamggehage participant takes a break after a light stroll near a dog shelter in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald)

According to Moon, love for the dogs is what makes all Hamggehagae members come together as a strong group.

“To be honest, Hamggehagae is not really about building a social network by meeting new people like other ‘donghohoe' (clubs) in Korea. Our major focus is these dogs, and I have no plans to change that,” Moon said.

“We have people from different age groups, jobs and MBTI types, but we work as colleagues to aid the dogs and share insights on pets as well," said Moon. MBTI refers to the Myer and Briggs Personality Types which is very popular in Korea.

"People don't need to feel pressured to become close friends because they have common interests,” Moon added, explaining why the crew is not heavily focused on team retreats or socializing after the volunteer activities.

Hamggehagae members gather to share important information about the shelter and its dogs before starting their volunteer services on June 15. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald)

Meanwhile, a unique aspect of Hamggehagae is a poll for the "Excellent Volunteer," a daily MVP, picked by the participating members and awarded a 10,000-won Starbucks voucher.

“After learning that showing even the smallest interest to the abandoned dogs means a lot to them, I try to play around as much as I can with the dogs at the shelter,” Jin Sol-ah, 33, from Seoul said, sharing a small tip on being chosen as the "Excellent Volunteer" on June 15.

Jin, who joined the crew almost two years ago, shared that raising a dog automatically made her turn her attention to other dogs.

An abandoned dog named Heukimja, meaning black sesame seed in Korean, waits for a new family at a dog shelter in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald)
A puppy born at the center leans against a door frame. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald)

“I have been in some other donghohoe before, but Hamggehagae is special. The crew and its activities have the power to make your ordinary day very meaningful. It makes you feel so accomplished,” Jin told The Korea Herald.

Moon, the group's director, agreed.

“One of my memorable moments was witnessing the decreasing number of dogs at the shelter as the dogs were adopted by new families. Hamggehagae does not provide dog adoption services, but we are proud to help the animals stay healthy and happy. This truly means a lot to us,” Moon said, his face beaming.

Hamggehagae members pose for photos at a dog shelter in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province. (Courtesy of Moon)

Koreans find friends and build connections beyond their existing social networks by meeting people who share common interests in clubs, called "donghohoe" in Korean. The Korea Herald introduces some unique clubs in this series, giving a peak at social life in Korea. -- Ed.