Welcome to Watson

Since Remi left us last June, we had a dog shaped hole in our hearts. Every time we saw a dog on the street happy with its person we knew a dog would be with us again. We’ve found that Polish dog culture is very friendly, dogs are allowed on trams (with their own tickets) and in most restaurants, and it seems like there are pet supply stores on every block. Dogs here are also very well behaved – many is the time we’ve seen little dogs waiting patiently outside stores for their owners to return.

We asked our landlord if it would be okay to adopt a dog. He replied that as long as we got a dog that is suitable for an apartment, we would be okay. He then sent us bus directions to the shelter.

So we decided to go out to the local animal shelter with our friend Karolina just to ‘take a look.’ The shelter is just outside the city so the animals have a taste of country life. The kennels are big and clean and the staff was friendly with us and the animals.

The shelter is lovely and we met all kinds of dogs. Big dogs, purebred dogs, huskies, spaniels, shepherds. Dogs that barked and dogs that cuddled. They have all sorts of animals. There were cats in their own play areas, a collection of birds, and even goats in a shed behind the main shelter.


On the Rynek and ready for action!

We were just looking, of course. Then we were just asking a few questions. This one was bad with cats, another one was a little bit aggressive. But then they suggested we meet one they were calling Wookie. A fifteen kilo dog with a shaggy face and brown, silver, and black fur.

They told us he was a Polish Lowland Sheepdog (now, we are not so sure), great with kids. We remembered seeing him on our walk. He was a dead ringer for Benji, the super-cute animal star of the 1970’s, and when we met him he was quiet and friendly and cuddly, all prerequisites.

We put him on leash for a trial walk. He kept pace with us, and ran alongside, and stopped to sniff other dogs but didn’t give anyone a hard time. We even walked him by the outdoor cat play area, and he paid them no attention. We considered taking a night to think it over, but Karolina helped us remember that if it was a good fit we shouldn’t wait, someone else might take him home first. It wasn’t long before we realized he was a keeper, so we borrowed a leash from the shelter and took him home.

And while we did ask our landlord for permission, we forgot to ask our cats. Ching took to Watson pretty quickly, allowing herself to be groomed with some serious head-licking action, but Clark spent much of the first week sulking around the house and hiding in the bedroom closet. Eventually, though, the new roommates warmed up to each other, and now they often nap on the couch together, though sometimes they have sibling rivalries for our attention.


Watson and Akasha in Krakow.

It took us a few days to think of a name. There was Wookie, of course, and Benji. There was Muppet (he’s totally a muppet!) and Charlie and a few others. But he started turning his head at Watson, and he’s a pretty good investigator, so that’s the name that stuck. Since then, Watson has settled in to domestic life. He sleeps a lot, plays with his hedgehog doll, and likes to play fetch at all hours. He’s something of a ball aficionado – squeakers are his favorite, but anything that rolls is worth a chase.

We have taken him to training. Polish dogs are very well behaved, so we wanted Watson to fit in. Training takes place in one of the local parks, and our trainer is very helpful and kind. After a few sessions where we struggled with motivation (Watson isn’t very food motivated, but does respond well to catch), Watson finally figured out what sit means. Since then he progressed to stay and stop. He’s even an obedient enough walker that he doesn’t usually need a leash – he just needs to know there’s a ball nearby and he’s happy to walk next to us. He keeps his eyes on us and stays a few inches away.


Training Time!

He’s also a good traveler. He’s come with us by car to Krakow and by train to Warsaw, and he’s a pretty brave adventurer, happy to sit on the floor and keep us company. To travel by train we just buy him a dog ticket for about 5 dollars. We hotels and airbnb both welcome pets, and Watson has received great reviews after our stays. Watson doesn’t go into museums, but he does like to look at the monuments, go to cafes, and play in Poland’s luscious parks.

Watson has made friends on the tram, they sniff politely and pass on by. We have yet to have an incident. Amusingly, we have also seen cats, wearing harnesses and leashes out for walks and on the trams.

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Above all else, he’s a people dog, eager to sniff and be cuddled. He’d love to meet you, so come on by and welcome him to the furmily!



Goodbye, Remi: So long and thanks for all the cuddles

June 24th, 2001- June 8th 2015

Sir Remington Rio. Houndington. Senior Muddypaws. Mr. Panty. Houndie. We had a lot of names for our dog, but mostly he was Remi. If you met him, you loved him.

Remi joined our family on Halloween, 2009. He’d led a sheltered life up to then, but made up for that with us. We took him to the Boundary Waters. He moved to Korea with us, then to Turkey. Remi was the best ambassador of goodwill the US could have hoped for. Everywhere we went people wanted to touch the black and white dog, and Remi put up with the attention like a champion.

Remi loved pretty much everything. He loved peanut butter, bread, cat food, and food the cats made (eew). He loved long, long, walks, playing in  water, chasing cats, and sniffing hedgehogs (the hedgehogs didn’t care for that too much.) Long walks with Che, Charlie, Willie, annoying his cousin Rosie, chasing his sister Ching and brother Clark, waking Mike up by breathing too loud, sighing that Akasha should go to bed already, and eatting.

Things he did not love include broccoli, celery, getting a haircut, and being alone.

Things that shouldn’t have gone into his mouth include: half a bag of cat food, a pound of grapes, a rat (dead), Tanci and Kat’s steak dinner, Akasha’s falafel, an entire bag of bagels, rat poisong (twice), Jenni’s caffeinated energy bars, Mopko pig jowls – We’re sure there’s more.

He had a good 14 years on earth and saw more of it than most. Yesterday, while out for a walk, age finally caught up to him, and he couldn’t finish the walk. Our vet came and took him back to his office, where he determined Remi’s liver had failed. The vet made him comfortable, and he passed on just before dawn. He will be missed by all who knew him.

Dog days

Pets are less common here, they are treated differently, and there are many feral cats and dogs on the streets.  We often ignore things we don’t want to see as a method of coping.  But last night we couldn’t ignore this cute puppy twitching and convulsing on the ground next to our building.  Someone had wrapped him in a blanket and tucked another blanket under his head.  We went home and called the vet to see if he was still open, grabbed a towel and a box and went back for him.  When we got back another neighbor had come by to bring him a bowl of porridge, but he wasn’t responsive.

The puppy, resting

We chatted with her for a second and figured out that neither of us knew where he came from, but that we would take him to the vet.   She escorted us to a taxi and tried to help give directions.  When we got out of the cab the driver looked at the sick puppy and said “I love you!” in English. Dr. Chan stayed open late waiting for us and stayed late taking care of him.
The poor fellow didn’t open his eyes on the ride to the vets or as the vet examined him.   He had a thick full coat, matted and muddy, but healthy.  His gums were a  light white pink, no fever, he had all the signs of a healthy dog.  Sadly, he wasn’t wasn’t waking up, he was twitching and convulsing.  Dr. Chen said he would give him an IV and some antibiotics and we should come back in the morning. He guessed that he was about 4 months old, but couldn’t guess the breed.  He was a very big puppy.

When we returned today he said that he was getting better and had drank, walked, and peed, but would need care.  He tested negative for heartworm and distemper, but was having seizures that were stopping him from swallowing.  Dr. Chen said that he would probably have a seizure a month, but be an otherwise healthy puppy.   We couldn’t take him with our 3 pets and our work schedule, and all of our friends are gone at work 9 hours a day, so the vet called the dog shelter. He said the shelter would take care of him until he found a home.  All told the antibiotics, food, boarding, and tests cost 82,000 won about 72 USD.

Close-up of the little cutie.

For all that we have heard of people mistreating animals here our neighbors really stepped up to bat for this puppy.  I hope he has many wonderful puppy adventures and finds a good home.  I was happy to learn that there is a stray shelter in my town.  Dr. Chen is an awesome vet, his services are limited in contrast to our vet in MN, but he is as caring and kind.

If you are in Mokpo and need a vet I highly recommend Dr. Chen.  He is an advanced  English speaker.  His clinic is very clean and comfortable and he is kind.  He is at Seoul Clinic across from Jin  Mart.  (tell that to the cabbie) his office number is 061-279-1175 he is open Monday to Friday until 7pm, Saturdays until 6pm and he closes for lunch from 12:30- 1:30.

What a dog brings to your Korean experience…

First, a dog brings all sorts of lovin. Remi is always happy to see us. When we get home, he hops right off our bed, which he keeps warm for us, to say hello. When we’re mellow, he sleeps next to us. Because it gets warm in our 9th floor officetel, we often keep the door propped open with a bamboo screen stretched across to keep the animals from escaping. This also lets Remi keep up on the comings and goings of our neighbors, which he does with a friendly bark now and then.

Like back home, Remi brings a sense of adventure to coming home. Every once in a while we forget to put away some food, and he decides to remind us to put everything away by taking the food, eating what he can, and leaving the wrappers all over the house. Good boy! Show us what we forgot to put away! Good boy!

But the best part of having Remi along is that he’s a great ambassador of American friendliness. There are a few people – kids, mostly, and drama queen girls – who see Remi and make a little show of screaming in terror, but they’re mostly in the minority. Far outnumbering them are the Koreans who stop and smile, or wave out of car windows, or who stop us on the street to give him a pet.

Last week we were in the park for our morning walk. We saw a couple of ajjumas (older ladies) sitting under the pagoda. One of them took an immediate shine to Remi and called us over. We went, of course, because it’s just wrong not to keep the ambassador of American cute from his rounds. We got Remi to hop up on the pagoda, and the old lady burst into a huge grin as she petted his back.

We tried to speak with her, but our Korean is limited to the words ‘ipa ge’ (cute dog) ‘chak-an ge’ (kind dog) and ‘haraboji’ (grandfather). She smiled at our attempts. She was maybe seventy, with a deeply lined face and thin, dyed black hair. Both of them looked like this, actually; they could have been sisters. Each had a set of bridges that would make American dentists weep: cold steel wirework holding dingy false teeth, but who could care, with their positive attitudes?

One of them held back, a bit reserved, though she began to warm up as the conversation continued. She pantomined the question of whether Remi was a boy or a girl; we told her he was a boy, then made a scissor motion to indicate that technically, he was a gelding. She giggled at that as well.

After a few minutes she gave us a piece of hard candy for the dog, who chewed it into pieces and swallowed it mostly still whole. Then it was time to go.

And that’s generally what Remi gives us here in Mokpo: a bridge to the locals, meetings we’d never have otherwise, and a whole lot of good mojo.

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Update:  One side note.  Tiny, small, micro dogs are the norm here.  We brought his toys, leashes, and brush.  We haven’t seen any replacements.  Remi hasn’t had a dog bone since he left home.    If you are reading this and packing your dog for  the big move, pack everything.  Especially clippers.   We haven’t found a groomer that has the supplies to groom him.  We bought a clipper for $35 dollars, but it isn’t strong enough or large enough to cut more than his toe hair.  We cut his hair with a mustache scissors now days.

If you are a friend wanting to send a care package, Remi would love a bone to gnaw on.  He never liked the plastic ones, but he loves everything else.  He especially loves Bully sticks.  YUM!

Update #2

Online shopping is a medium sized dog owners dream.  We order Remi’ dog food, the cat’s litter, and Remi’s replacement Kong on Gmarket.co.kr  It always arrives in a day or two and shipping is free to $2.  Oh, and as with most things in Korea, it comes with ‘service.’   Gmarket is a hassle to get started, but then it is a lifesaver.

The realities of bringing 3 pets to Korea

In general, this blog is to keep up to date with friends and family and give you a glimpse into our new life.  With this particular post we want to share with friends what it was really like to move here with our pets, and help people planning to bring their animals to South Korea.  While planning, we heard so many things that simply were not true.  There are so many forums where people say just awful things about animal care on airlines and in Korea, and the truth is, we’ve had a wonderful time here with our pets.  People have been just lovely, the animals weren’t stressed out, and it didn’t cost a fortune.  There are pet travel companies that were bidding $5,000 to ship the pets door to door and we are so glad that we took the risk and went it alone.

Here’s what we did, how much it cost, and how they are adjusting to life in South Korea:

The Pets:
We have one 46 lb English Springer Spaniel named Remi (friendly), a 10 lb black short haired cat named Clark (aloof), and a 11 lb black long haired cat named Ching (alluring).

Required Paperwork:
Vet visit for vaccines: 3 pets, including wellness check $238.11

Vet visit for USDA paperwork: (Professional Exam + International Health Certificate) x 3 pets $241.31

USDA Authentification of paperwork: 3 pets x $36 $108 

Travel Expenses:
Dog Water Bottle for Kennel in flight: $10

Fare to board with pets to South Korea (total):  $494.26

10 days to board the animals during orientation: $10 a day per pet = $300 (this included food/ litter/ walks)

For a grand total of:  (drum roll please) $1,393.68

To get started, you must get your pet’s Rabies and Boretella vaccines updated 3 months before you plan to leave.   Our animals had two years on their vaccines, but we still had to renew them.   The vet will need to get some forms from the USDA for the final pre-flight visit, so make sure they know you’re taking your pet overseas.

Our recruiter scheduled our flights for us about a week and a half before we left.  Once you have your plane tickets, schedule a trip to the vet within 10 days of your flight.  This is because the USDA certificate is only good for ten days. Our vet insisted on 8 days to cover us in case the plane was rescheduled or our arrival was otherwise delayed, so we wouldn’t miss the window.

We also had to call each carrier that we were flying on and reserve “tickets” for our pets.  They needed each pet’s name, their weight in the carrier, and the height, width and depth of the carrier.  They said that the cats couldn’t weigh more than 10lbs in the carrier to ride under the seat in front of us, but the cat’s weight was not checked at the airport. We flew on American and Korean Air.  It took 20 minutes to book the pets passage on American.  It took a little longer to book the flight on KA, and Akasha had to call back a few times until she had permission from her supervisor.  This would have stressed her out before, but she had read enough about Korean etiquette to know that it was a formality.

At the airport and on the Plane:

The cat carriers had to be soft sided.  We brought along collapsible camping bowls for feeding in flight, and put absorbent puppy pads in their carrier.  They didn’t use it to go to the bathroom, as intended, but did make a little cave to chill in when we were between flights and people were looking at them.  The vet recommended we bring wet food to keep them hydrated.

They were in the carriers all through the airport, except for security. Luckily we knew this, so we bought kitty collars with id tags and harnesses clipped to a leash to get through security.  Okay, so first you put all of your stuff in the security scanner.  Then take the cat/ small dog out of the carrier and pass the carrier through the x-ray scanner and walk with the cat through the metal detector.  It was fast and easy in Minneapolis.  The TSA at Chicago looked at it for several minutes, and Ching was not enjoying any of the beeping sounds. Akasha was happy Ching had a harness on so she couldn’t get away. Clark clawed through Mike’s favorite University of Minnesota T-shirt in his excitement, but that was the worst of it.

The cats went in their carrier and were placed under the seats in front of us during take off, landing, and meals.  Otherwise they were on our laps, in their carriers, as we petted them.  The vet gave them short acting Valium. (2hrs a pill)  We don’t recommend it.  Clark didn’t like the pill and spit it out, frothing like a freak.  It did chill him out, but wasn’t worth how stressed he got taking it.  Ching liked it too much, if you know what I mean.  She was rolling and rubbing against EVERYTHING.  Gross.   When it wore off we didn’t give them more and they were fine the entire flight.  The flight attendants loved the cats, they didn’t make us store them below the seats although they could have.

The Korean Air flight attendants were super kind.  They actually helped choose a seat mate for our aisle who didn’t mind traveling with cats.  They also let us take the cats to the bathroom to stretch their legs a few times during the flight.

The dog traveled under the plane.  His carrier had to be hard-sided, with a door that was secure, but could be opened and have a water bottle mounted in it.  We sent him with his dog bed, a puppy pad, his favorite stuffed duck, and a t-shirt that smelled like me.  We were able to visit him between each flight.  Chicago even had a pet exercise area for us to relax together.   

In our carry-on we brought dry kibble for the dog, cat food, leashes for everyone, their travel documents, and  wipes in case we had we had to clean up after an “accident.”  They all chose to hold it for the entire trip.  We did have to show documents at each airport and fill out new paperwork for all three flights.  The cats were given boarding passes on their carriers.  Remi was given a luggage sticker.  It took 1 1/2 hours to check in to each flight, and we had to pay the pet-carriage fee for each leg of the flight separately.  So, get to the airport super early, hope for long layovers, and stay patient.

Everyone on the flights was wonderful to the animals.  Between flights, attendants ran to get Remi and bring him to us.  They helped us get through immigration quickly so he could go to the bathroom.  They asked if the cats were comfortable on the flight.  Really, people went out of their way to help us.

We got to our hotel in Gwangju late in the evening, 36 hours after leaving Minneapolis.  The hotel let us keep the animals in our room for one night, but our recruiter scheduled a boarder to care for the pets during the 10 day long orientation. The boarder ran a pet shop/ groomer in Gwangju on the Gwanju Kong.  She was wonderful.  She charged us $10 a day per animal, fed them good food (Nutra, same as home) and gave them lots of attention.  We visited every night after orientation and walked Remi.  He was happy to see us every day, but greeted her like an old friend when we returned to the shop.  He was always happy to see her. She gave the cats a two-tiered kitty condo for their stay.  We would sit and pet them until they returned to the condo on their own.  Our animals were always treated very well.

Daily Life Now.

Our daily life, with regards to the animals, is about the same as back home.  We wake up early to walk the dog before work.  He gets walked after work and another bathroom break before bed. Some days he has longer walks, other days he has shorter walks.  It’s slightly less convenient to take him down an elevator nine stories for his constitutional, but I like to think he’d do the same for me, if it came to that. It rains a lot in the summer so we bring a towel on rainy days to clean his paws before getting into the elevator.

Pet supplies are more expensive.  A litter box is $26, a bag of litter is about $15 depending on the quality, cat food is $24 and a bag of store brand dog food is $10, nutra/ science diet $17.  You can find a variety of familiar brands like tidy cat, science diet, purina, as well as Korean products.  Pet products are in all the markets, with a greater variety in the local pet stores. We can’t find any beds, kennels, or accessories for the dog as Remi is 4 times the size of most of the dogs here.  We haven’t found a groomer that has supplies for him.  We didn’t bring his razor, so we had to buy one here.  If your dog is medium to large sized, bring your own razor, bed, kennel, and toys for a year or have a friend ship them.

One cultural note:

Koreans don’t often keep cats in their homes.  Our Korean visitors haven’t been comfortable around the cats, especially since ours are black.  They think they will get scratched…

Most people are great about our dog.  They tell us that he is big (kan), cute (ipo), or kind (chakan.)  Young women (12-25) scream, shriek, and make other melo-dramatic expressions for negative attention.  As soon as we smile, say “hello” and “kind dog” they cut it out.  It was annoying at first. Once we realized that teenage girls everywhere are annoying it stopped being so annoying.

Old ladies (ajuma) take a special liking to Remi. They call us over and pet him eagerly, saying ipo-ipo (cute, cute). Remi loves the attention and is always sweet as pie whether it’s a little kid poking at him or an older lady giving him a good rub. We’re lucky to have him, as he’s a good match for Korea.

That’s about it.  Life is good, the pets are happy, we are happy. We would have been miserable without them.

Update: As of December 1st regulations are changing.  Here’s a summary from Kore4expats including the Korean Quarantine Office website.

Update #2: We brought the animals back to MN.  It was as easy as pie. Our vet gave us a form that said the animals are healthy and up to date on their vaccinations.  A friend  drove us to the airport (with 2 friends and their dog- 5 adults, 2 medium sized dogs, and 2 cats for 4 hours in 1 van.) At the airport we went to the Quarantine and Declaration Office,  just below the big pagoda, and showed the documents to the agent.  They stamped the documents and sent all of us (animals included) to check-in.  At check-in we showed the agent our stamped documents, they inspected the dogs kennels, zip-stripped the kennel doors shut, and took the dogs to the cargo area. We met Remi in Detroit at our layover, brought him out to the pet area to stretch his legs and have a snack, then brought him back to the gate agent for check-in.  When we arrived at MSP he was at baggage waiting for us happy to be home.  It was a painless and pretty simple process.

Update #3

We did it again.  The animals are happily living in Turkey.  You can see how similar the process was on our Turkey blog.