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“I’ve been rescuing animals my whole life,” says Heidi Leland. When she and her husband decided in April 2016 to relocate to South Korea for his job, Leland knew she wanted to help rescue animals from the country’s dog meat trade.
Leland connected with two shelters—Save Korean Dogs in Gimpo City and Hannah Shelter in Daegu.
“So many of the dogs were so frightened,” says Leland, whose jobs included walking and grooming the dogs and helping them learn to trust humans. “My whole goal was just to love them and show them that people could be good to them.”
As special as all of the animals she met were, Caramel Cup stood out. The Jindo mix, who was living at the Hannah Shelter, was estimated to be 10 years old.
“She just attached to my heart,” says Leland, who recalls the first time she took Caramel Cup (whom Leland named after her daughter’s favorite flavor of coffee) on a walk to the nearby coast. “She just stood there listening to the waves crashing, looking out at the ocean. Then she sighed and leaned against my leg.”
Leland saw Caramel Cup through the healing of a severe limp and paid for her antibiotics when the dog’s fly bites became infected.
She sang to Caramel Cup and the other dogs to comfort them and even baked them peanut butter treats.
When Caramel Cup was selected to be one of more than 30 dogs departing South Korea for a new life in the United States via a Humane Society International rescue flight, Leland was sad to say goodbye to her friend, but delighted for the dog’s good fortune.
David Stroud, executive director of the Cashiers-Highlands Humane Society in Sapphire, North Carolina, said when his team saw the list of dogs coming to his state, they knew right away they wanted Caramel Cup. As the only dog on the plane older than 2 (as she hadn’t been slaughtered, but instead used for breeding), she’d be the hardest to adopt out. It was a challenge they were happy to take on.
Meanwhile, dog lover Eileen Anderson was in the market for a new old companion. When Anderson saw a profile of Caramel Cup in a local paper, something clicked, and Caramel Cup (now renamed Mele) had a new home in time for Christmas. (Anderson lived in Hawaii for several years, and “Mele Kalikimaka” is Hawaiian for “Merry Christmas.”)
Since joining Anderson and her four other dogs, Mele has blossomed. “She plays like a teenager in my yard,” says Anderson.
When Leland returned to Indiana, she decided to undertake a reunion tour, visiting as many of the animals she’d helped in South Korea as possible.
The trip started with a jaunt to the West Coast to visit Frost, a cat who’d been chained to a post outside a dog meat farm. With the help of Save Korean Dogs’ founder Nami Kim, Leland had arranged for Frost to be sent to her sister in California.
Then there was Willow, the miniature poodle in Las Vegas who came running when he saw Leland.
On March 28, Leland was finally reunited with Caramel Cup, and Anderson got to meet the person who gave her beloved Mele some of her first doses of compassion. And of course, Leland brought her old friend some homemade peanut butter cookies.