This week we chatted with Stephanie Jeong, the founder of Happy Angels Dog Rescue based in Los Angeles. In the latest installment of our interview series, Stephanie discusses her mission to save South Korean dogs, starting a non-profit from scratch, and her home garden.
Twenty Two: Let’s start with the basics. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Stephanie: I’m a graphic designer by trade but I’ve always had a passion for non-profits and saving dogs. Happy Angels Dog Rescue was founded in 2008 while I was working full-time as a graphic designer. I’m very lucky and grateful to be surrounded with wonderful people who share my passion.
Twenty Two: What inspired you to start Happy Angels Dog Rescue?
Stephanie: Although I was born in Seoul, S. Korea I never knew about the killing and eating of Korean dogs because I spent most of my childhood in Australia. One summer, while visiting my grandparents in Korea, I realised that all the dogs that I enjoyed playing and hiking with disappeared. I asked my grandparents what happened to them, and they told me that the dogs were either killed to become dog meat soup or sold to dog meat markets. This was the first time I learned about dogs as food. On many occasions I was witness to abusive situations, and people preparing dog meat while I was playing with friends in Korea. I promised myself that one day I would do something to make a difference.
During college I volunteered for a few local dog rescue organisations in Los Angeles. One particular group was rescuing dogs from Taiwan, transporting them to Los Angeles, and finding homes for them. This is what inspired me to start Happy Angels.
Happy Angels is the first and only Korean-American 501 (c)(3) non-profit in the United States to rescue dogs from South Korea. The majority of our fantastic volunteers are Korean-Americans who share the same passion to save dogs from S. Korea.
Twenty Two: Is the existence of dog farms in South Korea well-known both there and abroad?
Stephanie: Yes, in South Korea the existence of dog farms and dog meat markets are well known. In fact, it is widely known that these dogs are cruelly abused prior to consumption to enhance the “healing qualities” of the meat. Many Korean animal rights group are working tirelessly against the dog meat industry to stop the abuse and cruelty. The number of supporters abroad in the fight against animal cruelty in Korea is growing exponentially.
Happy Angels is currently working with In Defense of Animals (IDA) based in San Francisco, to put an end to the dog meat industry in South Korea.
Twenty Two: Why have you chosen to focus your efforts on small breed dogs in particular?
Stephanie: Most of our volunteer foster families live in Los Angeles, so many of them live in apartments/condos or townhouses that have weight and size limitations on pets. They do not have yards, so it is difficult to accommodate large breeds. Additionally, I have more personal experience with small dogs.
Twenty Two: Can you describe your experience of starting a non-profit from scratch?
Stephanie: Starting a non-profit from scratch was a difficult and intimidating process. I was unfamiliar with many aspects of beginning and managing a non-profit, but I sought advice from within the rescue community as well as from friends. I had the determination to make it work. I had to make it work for the sake of the dogs. There have been many challenges and struggles along the way, but I learn something new every day. Finding creative ways for fundraisers and balancing my personal life while running the rescue can be difficult at times. However, I’d like to impart some advice anyone who is enthusiastic about starting a nonprofit: know your goals, do not get sidetracked, don’t set limits on yourself, and think big. I am proud to say that Happy Angels is completely dependent on the generosity and time of our volunteers and donors. Our supporters and volunteers are always wonderful.
Twenty Two: How has living in Los Angeles influenced your work?
Stephanie: Los Angeles is such a diverse city, and living in Los Angeles has certainly changed my perspective on life. I have learned to become more open-minded, and I don’t think I would have met many of the interesting individuals I have connected with, if I were not living in LA.
Additionally, Los Angeles has the largest population of Koreans living outside of Korea. Working in Los Angeles has been a natural platform for Happy Angels to reach a large population of Koreans. We can educate the Korean population in Los Angeles garnering community visibility and support.
Twenty Two: When you’re not working, how do you spend your time?
Stephanie: I’ve started cultivating my home garden. I am growing herbs, a few vegetables, and several fruit trees. My grandparents have been farmers their entire life and had a very big farm. I didn’t appreciate the country when I was young. I have recently realised how fun it is to grow your own food and that sustainable living is good for the environment. During the weekends I enjoy going to farmer’s markets, but usually I spend most of my free time at home watching indie films and cuddling with my doggies.
Twenty Two: What can we expect to see from you in the future?
Stephanie: Happy Angels is currently developing ideas on creatively and effectively campaigning to end the dog meat industry in South Korea. We hope to become a more visible group, particularly in the Korean community, in both Los Angeles and South Korea.
Click on the images below to see more from Happy Angels Dog Rescue.
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