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Heidi Smith poses with her Christmas present, Egg Roll, a Maltese adopted from Korea through a rescue effort that brought her to SafeHaven Humane Society.

SafeHaven Humane Society in Tangent adopted out its first international immigrants this year, finding homes for five dogs from Korea just in time for Christmas.

Whenever the nonprofit, no-kill shelter has empty kennels — and that does happen from time to time, said Executive Director Chris Storm — it looks to partner agencies to help their animals find new homes. 

SafeHaven has partners both in and out of state, including a nonprofit, Los Angeles-based rescue organization called Shelter Transport Animal Rescue Team.

START has a connection with an activist in South Korea, Nami Kim, who has made it her mission to shut down the farms in her country that raise dogs for meat.

Kim purchased 300 dogs from a meat farm in Korea in late 2016 and made arrangements with a variety of rescue organizations, including START, to find them new homes, Storm said.

START paid for stateside transport for six of the dogs and for a driver to get five of the six to SafeHaven. (The sixth remained in California.)

SafeHaven has room for 40 to 50 dogs at any given time and wasn't completely full, Storm said. She agreed to the transfer in the early part of November and the five arrived Dec. 1.

By accepting the dogs, Storm stressed, SafeHaven isn't necessarily making any statement on whether dogs should be a source of meat in countries where that's a part of the culture.

"It's really hard to say it's wrong for maybe somebody who thinks eating cows is wrong," she said.

But the dogs had been rescued regardless, and SafeHaven could help, she went on. 

"SafeHaven is about kindness and compassion," Storm said. "We were able to give kindness and compassion to these dogs. That was our whole goal."

SafeHaven intake receptionist Heidi Smith has a slightly different take on the situation. She adopted one of the dogs — a tiny Maltese she dubbed Egg Roll — and is sure she should never have been destined for food.

Based on her research into Kim's work, Smith said she's found some dogs end up at meat farms through theft or deception. Farms pay cash, no questions asked, even if the animal still has a collar and tag.

Egg Roll, she believes, was almost certainly one of those. In contrast to three of the other four international transplants, who were only 2 or 3 years old and weighed upwards of 60 pounds, "Eggy" was only about 4 pounds, at least 8 years old, and nearly toothless. She had also been "de-barked" sometime in her life.

"She was a little tiny bit of nothing that was so badly matted they had to shave her," Smith said.

She remembers looking at her and thinking, meat dog? "You wouldn't even make an egg roll," she said. 

The name stuck with Smith, and so did Eggy's timid little face. "She absolutely wrapped her paws around my heart," Smith said.

Egg Roll went up for public adoption with the rest of the rescues, but Smith resolved that she'd adopt the little dog herself if nothing happened in 24 hours. 

When the time passed and Egg Roll was still at SafeHaven, Smith sent a text to her husband saying she knew what she wanted for Christmas — knowing he would still be asleep after his transition shift.

Two hours later — with her husband still asleep — Smith sent a second text. "Thank you for the Christmas present, Darling!"

"I gave him two hours," she said with a shrug. 'I thought I was giving my husband an incredible out. All I want is this little fluff."

Eggy joins seven rescue cats at the Smith home, along with another dog rescue, a terrier mix named Maggie; and two purebred Yorkies, Chelsea Rose and Stella Pearl. She loves her new siblings and is still timid, but learning to trust, Smith said.

In the end, Storm said all five dogs found new homes in the mid-valley: Jenny, Omni and Morgan, all white Jindo-Chow mixes, and little Nami, a Chihuahua. Egg Roll went to the Smith house on Dec. 5 and Morgan was the last to find a home, just before Christmas.

Storm said the humane society was careful in finding new homes because the dogs were very fearful and unused to anything but wire cages about the size of a couple of refrigerators. Adopting families had to have fenced yards, agree to training through the shelter and provide regular updates on their progress.

"We needed people to understand the life these dogs had come from," Storm said.

It's the first time SafeHaven has participated in an international adoption, but it may not be the last, Storm said. 

"I think that we had a really good experience, and I would love to do more to help," she said.

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