Rescue Dog Paju Helps Couple Explore the Meaning of 'Family' With Immigrant Parents
When Hyun Jin Yoo and his partner Chris Kwon first adopted their dog Paju in April, they knew that it would be an adjustment in their lives. Being more active in order to keep their doggo fit and engaged, making room in their home for dog beds and toys, making new friends through dog parks and other pet parents. But what the pair didn't expect was for their new furry friend to act as a bridge of understanding between the couple and their respective parents.
Both Kwon and Yoo are the sons of Korean immigrant parents, and the prospect of explaining the depth and nature of their romantic relationship more fully was a point of trepidation for the pair. A worry that was made more complicated by language, since they are both primarily English speakers and their parents communicate mostly in Korean.
But in adopting Paju from Korean K9 Rescue together, the couple found themselves learning new Korean words and phrases that coincidentally made it easier to talk with their parents about family and all the forms that concept can take.
"When we initially told them, there was a lot of ambivalence towards how to approach our relationship," Yoo tells Daily Paws. "But as soon as we got Paju, those conversations sped up. So we were looking for ways to expand our vocabulary and a lot of those words included things like 'adoption' and 'family unit'."
"It sort of challenged my parents to start thinking about different types of family units," he continues. "It certainly helped that Paju came from a Korean shelter. I think that helped them identify with him a little."
Since bringing the 1-year old Paju home, Yoo says that the bright, black-and-white mixed breed pup has surprised them with his quick mind and sweet personality. He says that they have begun to teach him Korean-equivalent cues and he's picking them up quickly. Paju's cleverness and polite disposition have certainly helped the couple's parents warm up to him, and Yoo has seen that develop into genuine warmth for the wiry dog, and even a tacit understanding of the greater implications for Yoo and Kwon's life.
"Sweet potatoes are such a common 'grandparent' treat for Korean families," Yoo explains. "Now, whenever we go over to Chris's parents house, they always have sweet potatoes ready for Paju. They sneak them to him all the time. They'll carry on whole conversations with him."
This past October, after months of video calls and messages, Yoo was able to take Kwon and Paju to California to visit his parents. Much like Kwon's parents, Yoo's weren't ever really "dog people," but they immediately took to little Paju, showering him with sweet potatoes and pet names.
Yoo credits Paju with giving him and Kwon a new means of talking with their parents about their relationship and helping to make clear how meaningful their connection is. It's a door that might not have been opened, were it not for the tireless efforts of Korean K9 Rescue in rescuing dogs who have been abused, abandoned, or slated for meat farms, and bringing them to the United States where adoption rates are much higher. Now, thanks to Paju and Yoo's story, Korean K9 Rescue was the recipient of an $11,000 grant from Petco Love and BOBS from Skechers as part of their Petco Love Stories campaign.
"There's a lot of good things that come from it," says Gina Boehler, Korean K9's Executive Director. "The money that we receive is going to go directly to the dogs. We were recently approved as a Massachusetts rescue, so we're slowly expanding into that area and trying to grow. It's a good feeling to know that there are grants like this that are willing to support small rescues."
And, as Paju, Yoo, Kwon, and their parents show, small rescues can help make big changes, not only in the lives of dogs in need, but in the lives of the people who adopt them.
"Paju has definitely opened up new lines of communication for us," Yoo says. "Our parents are more open to the idea of us being a family unit. At some point we want to start talking about having kids and what that looks like, and we think that's going to be a much easier conversation now."