Meet Willow – This Poodle's heartbreaking rescue story thankfully has a happy ending.

Sold by his family for $20 for being ‘too old,’ this dog-meat trade survivor is now helping his friends.

Though it’s hard to believe, Willow, a miniature Poodle with gloriously poofy apricot-blonde fur, survived a harrowing, unimaginably horrifying past. His family sold him, after years of neglect, to a South Korean dog meat farm for the equivalent of $20. When rescuers found him, it was hard to believe he had been someone’s pet.

Willow was discovered when Nami Kim of Save Korean Dogs took on her largest rescue to date, saving 300 dogs on a farm in Bucheon, South Korea. Willow was found hovering in a corner in front of the area where dogs were being killed. The terrified little dog was filthy and matted to the skin. His ears had been cut and his mouth held rotten teeth and an infected tongue. He desperately needed a true poodle rescue, but with his age and health issues, adoption options were limited.

Nami reached out to Las Vegas resident Heather Heath, who had become involved in efforts to end the dog meat trade, and asked if she would take Willow. Heather didn’t hesitate.

dog meat trade

In 2016, Willow was flown to Heather, who had accepted him sight unseen. With love and care, the broken pup began to blossom. “When he knew he was safe and loved, his personality emerged” Heather remembers. “His hair started to grow in fuller and people began asking me questions about him and our inspring poodle rescue.”

Heather recognized she may have found the partner she needed to get the word out about the dog meat trade. She started an “I Am Willow” Facebook page on a whim and in two days had 500 followers. Stunned, she realized she may have stumbled on to something.

“I recognized that there was a whole target audience I could reach if I just removed the negative images that people are constantly bombarded with on social media,” Heather says. “People inherently want to help change the situation, but they are halted when all they see are graphic images.” 

Though most of the dogs found in the dog meat farms are larger breeds, including Jindos, Golden Retrievers, Labradors, and Shepherd mixes, there are little breeds too, who are mostly used to make medicinal tonics, says Willow’s adoptive mom, Heather Heath.

Willow, it turns out, was the perfect ‘spokesdog.’

They began their mission to educate in earnest, and in short order a 2018 Hero Dog award followed. “When American Humane called and told me we won the Emerging Hero Dog category, I just cried,” says Heather. “It was a platform that I knew was going to make a difference.” Nami Kim attended the awards along with a Korean newspaper reporter who covered the awards in a five-page series in a local Seoul paper.

“Willow wore his ‘dog meat trade survivor’ vest and represented on behalf of all of his friends,” Heather says proudly. “We were giving a voice to millions of dogs not only suffering in South Korea but in the other Asian dog-and-cat-meat-eating countries as well.” 

Willow’s Wish

“I began Willow’s Wish ( hoping to show people that rescue is not the solution to ending the dog meat trade,” says Heather. “There is no way to rescue that many…however, we can change the landscape.” In South Korea, for instance, the international pressure is mounting and will eventually affect tourism. “Dog meat farming in South Korea is already on the decline,” Heather says. “With continued efforts to educate and offer alternative farming solutions and financial livelihood options, the country will change, and South Korea will set a precedent for other countries to follow.”  


“When American Humane called and told me we won the Emerging Hero Dog category, I just cried.”


Heather’s ultimate goal through Willow’s Wish is to offer viable solutions to improve animal welfare globally through education, sterilization, legislation, conservation, and adoption. As part of her mission to educate, Willow travels in foam board cutout form whenever Heather travels abroad. Willow’s Wish also sponsors freedom flights for survivors of the dog meat trade, including flights from South Korea, China, Vietnam, and Egypt. To date, they’ve sponsored close to 60 flights.   

“We are hoping to show people that a little dog who survived a horrific experience can make a lifelong impact in so many areas simply by exposing his poodle rescue survival story,” says Heather.

How Can You Help?

  • Donate to organizations committed to the big picture
  • Sign petitions
  • Use your voice for the voiceless—give these animals a chance to be heard
  • Help educate people so they can in turn educate others