The dog on the burning deck inspires the world
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2002:
HONOLULU, SEOUL, TAIPEI, BANGKOK– Rescuing just one
little two-year-old Taiwanese female mixed-breed terrier named Hokget
from the burned-out drifting hulk of the Indonesian fuel tanker
Insiko 1907 cost the Hawaii Humane Society, Humane Society of the
U.S., private donors, and the U.S. Coast Guard as much as $185,000,
spokespersons acknowledged after the seagoing tugboat American Quest
brought her into Honolulu.
That was almost twice was much as the additional $100,000
cost of towing the Insiko 1907 back to Hawaii to prevent an
environmentally catastrophic oil spill, and was more than twice the
total investment by all U.S. organizations combined last year on
other campaigns to help Asian dogs.
International Aid for Korean Animals, the largest
organization focused on dog-and-cat eating, raised $115,498 in
fiscal 2001 from a combination of U.S. and European sources. Other
groups working to reform the treatment of dogs in China, Taiwan,
Thailand, and the Philippines raised much less, as major U.S.
charities showed continuing deep reluctance to help fund campaigns
within Asia–especially after the post-September 11 fundraising slump.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare, the most active
U.S.-based funder of Asian projects, declined to help underwrite a
second Asia for Animals conference, despite the huge success of the
first conference, which attracted approximately 275 delegates from
20 nations to Manila in May 2001.
But the Hawaii Humane Society and HSUS were virtually
assured, well before Hokget reached dry land, that their investment
would be recovered, and then some, from sympathetic donors who
followed her saga nightly on television. The Hawaii Humane Society
had reportedly received $45,000 by the time Hokget landed, including
$5,000 from Regina Kawananakoa, who also spent $15,000 on
unsuccessful searches for the Insiko 1907 aboard a private jet.
The story began with a March 13 engine room fire aboard the
Insiko 1907 that killed crew member Gi Hui Nian, burned out the
entire superstructure, and left the ship adrift, without power and
without communications, for 18 days. Alerted by a flare and a
signal fire that the desperate crew lit on desk, the Norwegian
Cruise Line vessel Norwegian Star intercepted the Insiko 1907 on
April 2, taking off the 11 survivors.
“It looked like a ghost ship,” said Judy Matheny, of Bixby,
Oklahoma, who thought she heard faint barking.
The captain of the Norwegian Star told the passengers over
the intercom that a dog had been left aboard because of the 120-day
Hawaiian quarantine requirement, Judy and her husband Mason Matheny
told Associated Press later.
When the Norwegian Star dropped the rescued crew members off
in Maui, Mason Matheny asked a reporter to inquire if anything could
be done for the dog.
“I didn’t think anything else about it,” said Mason Matheny,
an oil field chemical worker by trade. “I just got back on the
cruise ship and continued to enjoy my vacation.”
But Mason Matheny’s question aired on a televised newscast.
Insiko 1907 captain Chung Chin Po explained that the dog was his,
that he was “very concerned” about leaving her, and missed her.
Her name was mistranslated as “Forgea,” a word in Mandarin
Chinese that means the same thing as Hokget in Hokkien, the
Taiwanese dialect: “happiness, good fortune, blessing–all that is
good,” said Chung Chin Po, gently correcting reporters, some of
whom had asserted that the word meant “lucky dog.”
Internet activists and callers to talk programs demanded to
know why Hokget had not been rescued. A Norwegian Cruise Line
spokesperson claimed erroneously that the crew of the Norwegian Star
had not known she was aboard.
As public interest built, the Hawaii Humane Society secured
a pledge of financial help from the ever-media-savvy HSUS and
chartered the American Quest for a five-day search-and-rescue
mission, costing more than $9,000 per day. American Marine Salvage
Inc., the owner of the American Quest, donated another $20,000
worth of searching time.
But the Insiko 1907, believed to have been drifting 230
miles south of Hawaii, could not be found. Concluding that the ship
and dog must have sunk, the American Quest returned to port. Cynics
jeered the effort as a publicity stunt.
On April 9, however, an American fishing vessel spotted the
Insiko 1907 by radar, now 400 miles southwest of O’ahu. Prevailing
currents seemed likely to smash the wreck– still carrying 60,000
gallons of fuel oil–into the coral reefs of Johnston Atoll,
critical habitat for several endangered species.
But 11 days of stormy weather passed and two aerial searches
failed before a U.S. Coast Guard C-130 relocated the Insiko 1907 on
April 20. The air crew saw Hokget. Making the lowest pass they
could, they threw her their lunches.
This time the Coast Guard hired the American Quest, to save
Johnston Atoll. Saving Hokget was an unofficial part of the mission.
In the interim, before the American Quest finally caught up with the
Insiko 1907 on April 26, two fishing vessels made unsuccessful
attempts to rescue Hokget which reportedly cost their owners as much
as $100,000 in lost fishing time. There was a premature claim that
Hokget had been rescued, then a report that she fought off her
would-be rescuers in defense of the tanker, the only home she had
“Hokget was only two weeks old when she was given to me,”
said Chung Chin Po. “I bottle-fed and raised her aboard the Insiko
1907. I was her family, resulting in a unique and special bond.
To watch this white furry bundle of mischievious, playful, loving
and friendly energy scampering all over the ship brought joy to all.
It gets very lonely at sea, and Hokget was a precious and happy
diversion, providing great companionship to the entire crew.”
As the American Quest approached, HSUS flew staff animal
capture expert Dave Pauli to Hawaii, from Billings, Montana, in
case he was needed.
Before Pauli landed, however, American Quest diving salvage
supervisor Brian Murray, 37, found Hokget hiding among old tires
piled in the front section of the tanker. “We knew she was in
there,” Murray told Will Hoover of the Honolulu Advertiser. “We
were trying to make her feel more comfortable with our presence. But
it was really hot,” in excess of 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Eventually,” Murray finished, “we just had to get her out of
there. I grabbed her by the scruff of the neck. She was okay after
American Quest cook Palalika Cunningham, 33, made a pet of
Hokget all the way back to Hawaii. There, at a brief press
conference, Iams gave her a lifetime supply of pet food. Then Kaui
Humane Society director Rebecca Rhodes, DVM, took Hokget into
custody to serve the 120-day quarantine. After the 120 days, Hokget
is to be adopted by Michael Kuo, a longtime friend of Chung Chin Po,
who pledged to keep her until Chung Chin Po can return to Hawaii to
Praised in Taipei
Unlike the millions of Asian dogs who are torture-killed each
year for human consumption, and the millions more who are poisoned,
bludgeoned, or simply starved in purges of street dogs, Hokget
could be saved. Her story inspired donors not just because it
included an exceptionally brave, tenacious, and telegenic little
dog, but because it included hope that something could be done for
Some Asian media criticized as misplaced the American
fixation on saving just one dog, at seemingly any cost, with
countless humans in poor nations in urgent need of food, medicine,
education, and jobs. But others found no fault with the outpouring
Editorialized the Taipei Times on May 5, “This story has
more to it than just cuteness. Many were quick to point out the
American values highlighted by this incident–the respect attached to
all lives, animals and humans alike. After all, this happy ending
came after multiple rescue attempts, air drops of pizzas, granola
bars, and oranges to the pooch, as well as the expenditure of a lot
of money. Animal lovers in the US demonstrated that they pay a lot
more than lip service to their beliefs.
“Of course, critics were quick to point out that it seems
ironic for the Americans to spend so much money on one dog, when
there are many needy and homeless dogs in the U.S.,” the editorial
continued. “But the real significance in the Hokget saga is not just
that one dog’s life was saved, but the ease in conscience felt by the
public. The argument that all the money and efforts put into the
rescue would have been better spent on needy humans isn’t convincing
either. The argument presumes that human lives have more value,
when animals are often much more likeable than some human beings.
“In comparison to the Americans,” the Taipei Times editors
scolded, “the people of Taiwan should bow in shame about the way
dogs are treated here. The number of stray dogs has reached alarming
proportions. Reportedly, many are discarded because either they are
too sick or are born as a result of pregnancies unwanted by their
owners. These problems could easily be resolved by regular
inoculations and neutering of dogs. Worse, some people in Taiwan
still engage in the practice of feng sheng–setting animals free for
religious reasons. While they may think they are doing a good deed,
in fact they are guaranteeing these animals a miserable life and
usually an early and very unpleasant death. Taiwan does not have a
culture of adopting stray dogs, so most strays rounded up by
government agencies are killed, often in a very gruesome manner.
“Of course, in comparison with the other side of the Taiwan
Strait,” the Taipei Times noted, “dogs here are virtually in
paradise. The practice of dog-eating is a lot more prevalent in
China, where the police are reportedly conducting yet another major
crackdown on unlicensed dogs. Among the first to be killed were
7,100 dogs rounded up in Shanghai.
“Does this mean the people in Taiwan have any reasons to feel
comfortable?” the Taipei Times concluded. “Of course not. China is
notorious for barbarism to both animals and humans. Taiwan must do a
lot better than that.”
Pro-dog, not anti-Asian
For that endorsement of humane values alone, the Hokget
rescue could be considered worth the money. Few other U.S.-funded
campaigns with an Asian focus have as quickly drawn support from
major newspapers–but the Hokget effort was somewhat uniquely
directed at achieving a positive goal. It was clearly pro-dog, not
By contrast, the boycotts of Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China,
and other nations called by various groups to protest whaling,
dog-and-cat-eating, cruel zoos, and inhumane animal control
practices are widely seen as anti-Asian because they hit whole
nations, not just the relative handful of mostly older and affluent
male citizens who make most of the decisions, collect most of the
profits from cruelty, and are the major eaters of whale meat, dog
meat, and wildlife.
As the Hokget rescue proceeded, anti-Asian overtones were
alleged in connection with the anti-whaling and
anti-dog-and-cat-eating campaigns waged to coincide with the mid-May
meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Shimonseki,
Japan, and the World Cup soccer tournament, which began play in
Japan and South Korea on May 31. (See also the page one article
“Will wild orca capture and Makah whaling resume on Puget Sound?”)
More than 700 Japanese right-wingers marched in Shimonseki on
May 19 to protest alleged western racism. Their presence
overshadowed the signatures of 1,500 students from eight leading
Beijing universities on petitions against whaling, circulated by the
China office of IFAW.
IFAW also asked the members of the British soccer team to
sign a pledge to refuse whale meat that was reportedly to be offered
to them at the Japanese events. PETA won petition signatures from
British team members Michael Owen, Jamie Redknapp, and Emile Huskey
against Korean dog-and-cat-eating. Viva! urged Owen and British
captain David Beckham to discard their kangaroo leather soccer boots,
in protest against Australia raising the kangaroo culling quota this
year to 6.9 million. But the Australian angle did not get much
attention, if any, in Japanese and South Korean news media.
Of greater concern was the announcement of the 150-member
National Dog Meat Restaurants Association that soccer fans would be
offered free cups of dog meat stew outside the World Cup tournament
stadiums, two of which–including the tournament home field for the
Costa Rican national team–are within sight of the notorious Moran
Market in Sungnam, Korea, just south of Seoul.
Extensively photographed by ANIMAL PEOPLE publisher Kim
Bartlett in May 2001, the Moran Market is the largest
dog-and-cat-meat sales site in Korea. Costa Rica is among the most
animal-friendly nations of Latin America. As Costa Rican soccer
fans, animal advocates, and news media discovered the confluence,
Korean officials tried a whitewash.
“In February 2002,” wrote International Aid for Korean
Animals founder Kyenan Kum, “the South Korean government publicly
announced a major crackdown on dog slaughtering at the Moran Market.
In mid-March, however, I was disappointed to find no change.”
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation program Foreign
Correspondent premiered new video of the Moran Market on May 8. It
looked no different from a year earlier. Similar footage soon aired
in Italy, South Africa, and other nations, each time sparking
protest, including a 40-picket demonstration outside the South
Korean embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, on May 10, reportedly
led by Lillian Steeg of the World Animal Watch Task Team.
As Steeg and friends marched, National Dog Meat Restaurants
Association president Park Sung-soo told media he had cancelled the
plan to pass out dog meat stew samples.
“We will not go against the govenment’s wishes,” Park Sung-soo said.
But three weeks later, Park Sung-soo told Guardian
correspondent Vivek Chaudhary that the dog meat stew samples would be
distributed as originally announced.
After the month-long duration of the World Cup tournament,
the dog-and-cat-meat dealers hope for a quick return to
business-as-usual. The global media spotlight and international
animal advocacy group attention, they expect, will refocus on other
issues until 2008, when Beijing will host the Summer Olympic Games.
Pro-dog meat politicians have already made clear that they intend to
again pursue legislation that would erase the unenforced 1991 ban on
the sale of “unsightly” foods. The ban is more an embarrassment to
dog-and-cat-meat dealers than an actual obstacle to selling the
carcasses of tortured dogs and a broth made by boiling cats alive.
International Aid for Korean Animals, the Korean Animal
Protection Society, Voice 4 Animals, and the Anti-Dog Meat
Headquarters, leading the indigenous Korean struggle against
dog-and-cat-eating, will be left as before, to try to support their
organizations and campaigns as best they can.
What the Korean groups need are their own Hokget stories,
with the hope of happy endings, to stir Koreans as Hokget stirred
Americans and many Taiwanese.