Humane Society International used Cowell's donation to rescue 200 dogs from a "deplorable and depressing" existence

By Kelli Bender
October 10, 2018 03:22 PM
Jean Chung for HSI

It’s lucky number 13!

Shortly after receiving more than $32,000 from America’s Got Talent‘s Simon Cowell, Humane Society International used the funds to help finance a rescue operation in South Korea.

“His support helped financially but also in raising awareness. We met people in South Korea who has heard of his donation and it really had an impact,” Wendy Higgins, HSI’s Director of International Media, told PEOPLE about Cowell’s “enormously” beneficial gift.

During this operation, HSI shut down a dog meat farm in Gyeonggi-do, South Korea. This is the 13th dog meat farm the animal welfare organization has shuttered.

Thank to HSI’s efforts, 200 dogs of all shapes and sizes — including poodles, Labs and collies — have a second chance at a life, leaving behind their heart-wrenching pasts of hunger, poor health and neglect. Similar to its previous dog meat farm shut downs, HSI found the canines under this facility’s care covered in sores and skin diseases, and kept in dirty, barren wire cages with “absolutely no enrichment or comfort.”

Jean Chung for HSI

“It’s my fifth dog meat farm closure with HSI and honestly, it never gets any easier, it never feels any less horrific to see these dogs clearly so terrified and yet so desperate for human affection,” Higgins said. “The conditions are utterly shocking, a factory farm for dogs where they are kept in tiny prisons day in day out. And yet to be there with my HSI colleagues to lift these guys out of that deprivation and suffering, is the best feeling in the world. A typhoon hit mid rescue too so that was extra challenging, but we kept smiling! Those dogs were getting out and that was all that mattered!”

HSI/ Canada HSI

These loving hugs are just the start of the affection these dogs can expect in the weeks and months to come. All of the animals saved from the dog meat farm have been flown to partner shelters in the United States, U.K. and Netherlands and to HSI’s temporary shelter in Montreal, Canada. During these layovers, all of the pups will be vetted and brought back to full health. Each dog will then be matched with and placed into a loving forever home, a far cry from the “desolate and depressing” existence they knew just weeks before.

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The dogs are not the only ones who benefit from these shut downs: HSI also helps the owners of the closed dog meat farms find a new livelihood, setting them up in more lucrative and humane trades like mushroom farming. Farmer Lee, the man who operated the 13th dog meat farm shut down by HSI, is working with the organization to expand his medicinal herb farm.

Jean Chung for HSI

“I’ve wanted to stop dog farming for a while but I didn’t know how to make it happen until a former dog farmer told me about HSI’s scheme to turn dog farms into new businesses. I think there will be a lot of interest from other dog farmers wanting to quit too, because it’s not just about saving the dogs but about helping us farmers too, and I appreciate that,” Farmer Lee said about the transition, according to HSI.

Jean Chung for HSI

There is still plenty of work to be done. There are currently around 17,000 dog meat farms in South Korea, impacting the lives of thousands of dogs and farmers looking for a way out. HSI is working to shut down as many of these facilities as they can, but the non-profit hopes the country’s government will make efforts to eradicate this dying industry, too.

“The ultimate goal is to demonstrate to the South Korea government that our program represents a working phase out model that we’d like them to roll out nationwide to shut down the whole industry. Our model works and it’s increasingly popular because it’s a dying industry but so many dog farmers are trapped with no way out,” Higgins said.

Jean Chung for HSI

To help HSI with this goal, Higgins suggest animal lovers “keep the pressure up, it really does make a difference. People often ask does signing petitions achieve anything, and I always say yes! Change is often a slow burn but it needs those pressure points to keep it moving, and we see that with our political lobbying, politicians definitely take note.”

To learn more about the work HSI is doing, supported by stars like Simon Cowell and Gus Kenworthy, visit the organization’s website.