By Staff Sgt. Mackenzie Mendez, 8th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published October 23, 2019
KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- The strength of the Air Force comes from its Airmen; their dedication, commitment and passion to serve their country, support their local communities and make a lasting difference. At the Wolf Pack, one Airman is leading the charge to help make a lasting difference in his local community through the rescue and rehabilitation of animals.
Master Sgt. Mason Bergeron, 8th Operations Support Squadron aircraft flight equipment flight chief, arrived at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, in March 2019. Almost immediately, Bergeron began to notice a pattern of homeless animals seeking shelter and food near Kunsan.
“One night I heard a dog barking outside of my window, so the next day I went to see if I could find the source,” Bergeron said. “That’s when I found two dogs chained up in a field, roughly 20 feet apart. With no signs of food, shelter or owner, I began to care for them.”
Bergeron called these two, the “garden pups.” Each was on a four-foot chain, slowly starving and reeking of filth. Bergeron provided the two young dogs with food, blankets and towels and began to spend hours every week caring for them.
“I was coming back and feeding them, providing them with more towels and blankets,” Bergeron said. “I had created a stockpile of dog-related health items, food and towels in my trunk. I became very close with these two dogs.”
After weeks of caring for the two “garden pups,” Bergeron once again found himself following the sound of distant barking and crying. Across the street, he found three more dogs without food, shelter or an owner; these dogs became known as the “airport dogs.”
For three months, Bergeron cared for all five dogs, posting photos and videos to his social media accounts about the dogs he had discovered. Soon after posting a video on Facebook, Bergeron began to receive support from his Facebook community. People began to share his video, prompting individuals to send Bergeron care packages full of treats, toys and blankets.
“One lady and her son sent me homemade toys and blankets that their dogs favored,” Bergeron said. “But, I knew this wasn’t a permanent fix. I needed to find homes for these dogs so when it was time for me to leave Korea, they were safe, healthy and cared for.”
Bergeron continued to scour the internet for South Korean rescue groups, where he made contact with handfuls of individuals from the United States and Canada who wanted to help in any way they could.
His weeks-long search brought him to a local sanctuary, whose owner began rescuing abused animals from the Gunsan area in late 2017. Lee, Jung-Ho, Gunsan Dog Land director, began caring for abandoned, lost, neglected, abused and otherwise discarded pets as a favor to the Gunsan City government. Lee was asked to care for the dogs for three months while a new shelter was found to house these animals. However, Lee found his passion and decided to turn his park, dedicated to celebrating the lives of pets, into a pet sanctuary. Today, his sanctuary is home to more than 600 dogs and cats.
Within hours of messaging Gunsan Dog Land’s Facebook group, Bergeron began receiving messages in Korean, asking him for details regarding both the “garden pups” and “airport dogs.” Soon after, Bergeron received an address and instructions to make his way to Gunsan Dog Land as soon as possible.
“When I arrived, there were five or six people waiting for me,” recalls Bergeron. “They began looking at the photos on my phone of the poor living conditions of the five dogs I had found. We couldn’t communicate because no one spoke English and I didn’t know any Korean. This is when two men grabbed a few crates, a net and gestured for me to get into a van.”
The group made their way to the “airport dogs,” where the two men inspected the living condition of the three dogs Bergeron had been caring for and feeding for more than three months. They were living on large plywood boards, chained to a nearby fence. One of the men, who turned out to be Lee, the director of Gunsan Dog Land, went to find the owner of the three dogs. Before long, Lee was back to give Bergeron good news, they were taking the dogs back to the sanctuary.
Lee was unable to negotiate the rescue of the “garden pups” at first, but he promised Bergeron they would not give up. The group of men returned to Dog Land where the three white “airport pups” received baths, vaccinations and were provided a home, possibly for the first time in their lives. Two days later, Bergeron was notified the “garden pups” had also been rescued.
“When I heard all of the dogs had finally been rescued, it was the happiest day of my life,” Bergeron said. “After caring for these dogs for months, I had finally found someone who was able to give them a better life in a matter of days.”
Bergeron volunteers at Gunsan Dog Land every weekend and is often joined by members of a group he created on base, the Dog Land Outreach. Through the power of connection and social media, this group of volunteers has grown to over 150 active duty military members stationed at Kunsan.
“Airmen involved in Dog Land Outreach are helping to care for and provide unconditional love for the animals at Gunsan Dog Land,” said Capt. Christina Kyc, Dog Land Outreach vice president and 8th Medical Group licensed clinical social worker. “They purchase treats, food and toys needed to care for the animals with their own money. They’ve also secured positive ties with our host nation and the Gunsan community, despite the language barriers.”
Bergeron has not only recruited volunteers for the sanctuary, he’s found website designers, social media managers and translators to help the sanctuary better connect to the U.S. and Canada.
“I never planned to come to Korea and create a movement,” said Bergeron. “Gunsan Dog Land has the hardest working and most compassionate staff, but their resources are limited. Although it wasn’t my intention, I found my purpose here in Korea through helping Gunsan Dog Land provide a loving home for so many animals.”
The Dog Land Outreach group has become the bridge between the sanctuary, organizations in the U.S. and Kunsan. Bergeron has connected the sanctuary with prevalent rescue organizations in New York City, Minnesota and Canada.
“They are man’s best friend, these animals deserve every ounce of love and affection we can give them. Each of them deserves to be rescued and given a full, happy life,” concluded Bergeron. “If we don’t help, who will?”
For more information on Gunsan Dog Land, visit https://www.gunsandogland.com.