(SAPSAREE DOG BREED) Thanks to one man, Korea’s loyal, shaggy-haired dog breed known as the Sapsaree, or Sapsali, has gone from a population of just eight in the 1980s to 1,200 dogs living with South Korean families. Read the story of geneticist Ha Ji-Hong and see remarkable pictures of the dog breed he saved – and the Sapsarees who are saving people with their work as therapy dogs.
Global Animal –
In Korea, decades of colonial occupation, war and poverty took a deadly toll not just on millions of Korean citizens, but also one of the country’s traditional and beloved breeds of dogs – the sapsarees.
Sapsarees, sometimes spelled as Sapsali, are one of only three dog breeds native to Korea, along with the Jindo and Poongsan. The first record of Sapsarees appears in an ancient tomb mural from 37 B.C.-668 A.D., but modern history has not been kind.
The shaggy-haired sapsarees, long valued for their loyalty, were killed in large numbers by the Japanese military between 1910-1945 during the period of Japanese colonial rule. The dogs’ fur was used to make winter coats for its soldiers serving in the extreme cold of Manchuria.
When South Korea emerged from the turmoil of two wars and decades of poverty, the medium-sized Sapsaree, whose name means “the dogs that ward off evil spirits or misfortune” and which resembles a sheepdog, had all but disappeared. By the mid-1980s, only eight remained, says Ha Ji-Hong, a U.S.-educated geneticist who is a professor at South Korea’s Kyungpook National University,.
But now the breed has made a remarkable comeback, thanks largely to Ha, who combined traditional breeding with advances in modern DNA technology.
“Restoring the Sapsaree breed with only eight dogs was not easy,” he said, citing financial and veterinary woes.
“My father told me, ‘Restoring a dog breed is a project fit for an English nobleman with unlimited capital. I don’t know how you’re going to take on such a challenge with your college professor’s salary,'” Ha added.
This proved true. Ha ended up selling all his family assets, including farmland that he inherited from his father.
“The thought of Sapsarees being gone forever was like a jolt to my thoughts and it woke me up to take on the challenge” of preserving the breed, said Ha.
Today, Ha has 500 breedable-quality dogs and there are more than 1,200 Sapsarees placed with families across South Korea.
The breed’s loyalty, combined with the animal’s gentle and quiet temperament, have made Sapsaree dogs ideal as therapy animals. They have been used for this in hospitals since 1999.
Lee Dong-Hoon, a researcher who did his graduate dissertation on Sapsarees, said their personality and huggable size — they are 46-56 cm (18-22 inches) tall and weigh 16-26 kg (35-57 lbs) — make them favorites among hospital patients.
“Children who are recovering from bullying by other children find themselves opening up to Sapsarees,” he added.
“I saw a patient who was whispering into one Sapsaree’s ears, ‘Only you understand how I feel.'”