Since 1992, Angela and David Cavill, along with many others involved in the UK world of dogs, have been working closely with the Korean conglomerate, Samsung, to achieve the company Chairman's vision to ensure that dog ownership and appreciation become an integral part of Korean culture. In retrospect it did not seem at all odd at the time to be approached to help in progressing a 'culture change' in a country as remote as Korea but they can see now that from the outside it might have seemed a strange project with which to get involved.
Many people have difficulty in coming to terms with other cultures even thought they will happily travel to France on a holiday (where horses and snails are an acceptable part of the diet), to Egypt or India where poverty is an integral factor of daily living or (closer to home) indulge in a Chinese or Indian take-a-way where the strong spices and hot sauces make all the key elements of the dish indistinguishable. David and Angela were very pleased that they agreed for it has been a unique and fascinating experience.
The Far East has a tradition of using anything edible as part of their diet and this has always included those animals that the West, in recent years anyway, regarded as domestic pets. In fact, in Korea at least, it should be emphasised that the market for such animals, both for alleged medicinal purposes and as a delicacy has dropped very sharply in the last twenty years and surveys among young people, who see companion animals only as pets, indicate that it will cease altogether in the next twenty.
In the meantime, the Chief Executive of Samsung, Lee Kun-Hee, as Chairman of one of the world's largest companies and a dedicated lover of dogs, has committed a massive budget to hasten the process. Angela and David have been delighted to have been involved and made a major (and voluntary) contribution to the project.
Brian Leonard, then in charge of public relations at the Kennel Club, realised that the training and educational elements of the scheme were vital and, at that time, outside his (and the Kennel Club's) remit. He asked if the Cavills would be prepared to be involved. Before their first visit and on the advice of several UK visitors who had sold dogs of quality to him, Chairman Lee had already built an absolutely magnificent kennel some forty miles outside Soul. It was situated in beautiful surroundings on the many acres that comprised the site of Samsung's record breaking theme park, Everland that recorded 9,000,000 visitors in 2001.
Samsung had also begun to sponsor Crufts but his staff had limited knowledge of the techniques of caring for dogs in confined environments: they were dedicated but their knowledge and understanding of 'quality', of breeding and canine psychology was sketchy. Although Chairman Lee wanted to do more - much more - no one attached to his headquarters in Korea was quite sure in which direction to go.
The first step was to visit Korea and the kennels. As a result, kennel staff were sent to the UK to train at Bell Mead and in a series of visits, David and Angela developed training material and coursework for the Korean veterinary staff and senior kennel staff and held many seminars for them in Korea.
After personal discussions with Chairman Lee and his senior staff, they wrote a lengthy report outlining the current position and suggesting ways in which what was now beginning to be called 'the project' could move forward. This was submitted to the Chairman's Office and received his personal attention. A further meeting followed, squeezed in, between a formal lunch with Michael Hesaltine and a late evening meeting with the Vice-president of Korea!
The key elements of the report were a series of wide ranging initiatives to raise the profile of dog ownership in Korea emphasising the value of dogs to society both as pets and as working dogs. They included the encouragement of responsible pet ownership using television documentaries, the media, public relations and the publication of a magazine, the development of guide dog, support dog, hearing dog, search and rescue dog training and the implementation of a PAT Dog (Pets as Therapy) scheme.
This report led to the creation of a major canine department reporting direct to the Chairman's office and brought together eighteen senior managers and other support staff at new, purpose built, offices and training centres at Everland. By 2002 'the project' was giving employment to over three hundred people!
Back in 1992 few of those involved in Korea had any knowledge or experience of dogs - they were all starting very much from scratch so it was felt necessary that both the new managers and all senior managers within the Company should be briefed. To do this, David gave a day long seminar to over three hundred senior staff from around the world at the Samsung International Training Centre Korea in 1995 and held a series of meetings with the appointed senior project staff to explain the overall vision.
Some guide dog training was already in progress and trainers had been employed from the United States. The problem was that the Company was working in a vacuum so little progress was being made. The report suggested developing contacts with the International Federation of Guide Dogs Schools and the Cavills were able to set up series of meetings that soon brought positive results. Visits to GdftB headquarters in the UK were followed up with negotiations in New Zealand for New Zealand has an excellent Guide Dog School and relatively few blind people - the reverse of the situation in Korea. Within three years the first guide dogs appeared on the streets of Soul and by that time premises and training facilities had been built for Search and Rescue and Support Dogs that are equal to any in the world.
In the meantime, staff at the kennels were trained to evaluate potential owners, monitor the progress of puppies in their new homes and provide advice to owners if puppies became too much of a handful.
The progress has been amazing. A recent full back page story on one of the Soul English language newspapers was dedicated to the role of 'sniffer' dogs being used to detect drugs at Soul's international airport. Such a story would have been unthinkable ten years ago.
In 2002 David and Angela Cavill travelled to Korea with Brian Leonard and Meg Purnell-Carpenter to join in the celebrations marking ten years of 'the project', the launch of the new quarterly dog magazine 'Heart to Heart' and to visit the famous Jindo Island where the Korean government backed breeding facility for the Jindo dog is located. 'General', a Jindo Dog, was at that time in quarantine at Meg's kennels near Bristol so that he will be able to appear on Samsung's stand at Crufts in March 2003. More details are available on the Internet (in English) at www.Mydog.samsung.com .