1. Sapsarees that guarded the village gate and repelled evil spirits

Dogs are Wolves' Closest Relative

Dogs carry wolves' instincts. Dogs' absolute loyalty to its master has been so highly appraised that, of all the animals, dogs were the first to become tamed during the dawn of civilization. As loyal subjects to their master, dogs were believed to possess certain power to protect people from evil spirits and warn of outside approaches. Perhaps that is how dogs have become a symbol for driving away evil spirits. In any case, dogs are man's most trustworthy friends.

President Lee Seung Man appraised the Sapsaree in a Chinese poem titled "Blue Sapsaree," as being more faithful than his own subjects. His remark was probably a result of lamentation over the unfortunate fact that there were no trustworthy officials under him.

As a dog lover, I met Sapsaree for the first time about 30 years ago, when I was a head-shaved middle school student. Unlike the Shepherds and Jindo Dogs, which were raised at that time, Sapsarees seemed to be somewhat strange and mystical, but the dogs whose ridiculously bushy black hair covered their facial expression were no other but the Blue Sapsarees. So what is the identity of these loyal dogs who would endlessly wait at the village gate until their master's return? And what is the identity of these dogs that would always bark at a messenger sent by his master to his lover's house?

People normally think of Sapsarees as small and gentle-looking foreign dogs with long hair. Having only seen terriers and poodles, which are both dogs with long hair, urban children these days might think of Sapsarees as strange mythical dogs from a dark realm. However, until about 50 to 60 years ago, Sapsarees were commonly seen in a rural village in the southern region of the Korean peninsula.

In fact, Sapsarees are middle sized dogs that are slightly larger than Jindo Dogs and are generally classified into Blue and Yellow Sapsarees. Blue Sapsarees have long black hair that are mixed with light gray hair that together produces a dark gray or dark-blue color, but because the color appears to be bluish when reflected by the moonlight, they were named Blue Sapsarees. Yellow Sapsarees have yellow hair that are oddly mixed with white and black hair that together produces a variety of yellow colors.

A shared trait between the Blue and Yellow Sapsarees is that, because their whole body is covered with long hair, they both appear very wild at a glance. On the other hand, because their ears are drooped downwards and their eyes are covered by long hair, they also seem somewhat humorous. Sapsarees are physically well-balanced and the males usually have a large head with their chest pushed in towards their belly and, except for the bridge of their nose, they have long bushy hair on both sides of their mouth. Blue Sapsarees are completely black when they are born, but after about 4 to 6 months, their hair starts to shed as black and gray hair start growing and mixing together.

Sapsaree's Influence in the Consciousness and Emotions of Our Ancestors

Sapsarees that frequently appeared in the writings of Poet Ji-yong Jung and Cheon-myung Noh are the Sapsarees that were seen in the village gate. There are so many stories about the Sapsarees that there are likely to be no other dogs that have had a bigger role in affecting the consciousness and emotions of our relatives. Particularly, the story of Minister Hwang Hee, who lived during the Chosun Dynasty in the village of Bang-chon, depicts the unique temperament of Sapsarees and is very interesting (we can tell by the village's name, Bang-chon, which means the village of Sapsaree, that the village must have had a deep connection to the Sapsarees). Minister Hwang Hee's glare was so intense that, with just a single glare from his eyes, the minister could frighten and kill any weak hearted person or animal that dared to look at him. During the minister's old age, he took a Sapsaree and glared at it with all his might, but the dog did not budge at all. After this, the minister was said to have lamented over his old age. Whether it was the minister's old age or the Sapsaree's powerful temperament that the Sapsaree did not budge, Sapsarees are clearly not of the ordinary.

One can notice the frequent appearance of "lion dogs" in Chosun Dynasty's dictionary of Chinese characters. Because the people at that time never had a chance to see a lion, they substituted a Sapsaree for a lion, and, consequently, gave the nickname "lion dog" to Sapsarees. The Sapsaree's appearance might have been a big factor in this nomenclature, but its temperament and nature were powerful enough that the people made Sapsarees as the king of dogs.

Besides "lion dogs," Sapsarees had other names such as "Shin-sun," which comes from the name of a Taoist hermit with supernatural powers, and "Sun-bang." People may have thought it was interesting that the Sapsaree's could identify its master despite eyes covered by hair and their dumb appearance. When a white-coated Sapsaree would run with the wind, people may have compared it to a do-sa, or an ascetic, dwelling in the mountains.

There is a story about a Sapsaree that saved its master from a grim reaper. Long ago, there was an old man who raised a large Yellow Sapsaree and, one day, because the Sapsaree kept on barking, the old man told his son to take the dog and eat it. The night before the Sapsaree's scheduled death, the Sapsaree said this memorable statement to a dog next-door: "Until now, it was I who protected the master from the grim reaper, but, because the master does not like to hear my noise anymore, it seems that both my master's and my fate are over now." With the death of the Sapsaree that blocked the grim reaper, the old man faces death. Whether the Sapsarees can really see ghosts or drive away evil spirits, these stories of good-luck dogs that are believed to have brought fortune to one's household clearly speaks of the long-lasting trustworthiness of Sapsarees.

Near the Nak-dong riverside, there is a 300 year-old tombstone labeled "Uigu-chong" (Picture #20). After liberation and during the Liberal Party period, while new roads were being constructed, the tombstone was struck by a laborer's pickaxe and the last letter "chong" was lost, leaving behind only "Uigu." The damaged tombstone was collected by a native teacher Kim Soo-gi and placed it on a hill next to newly constructed roads. In 1993, it was said that the tombstone was decorated with expenditures received from the Sun-san Military Office (Picture #21). Within the book "Uiyeol-do," which was written by Heung-chang Ahn in 1665, the detailed story regarding the tombstone's history is recorded together with four pictorial scrolls (Picture #22). The story is as follows:

A gentleman named Sung-won is drunk and falls asleep in a riverside on his way back home. The field is suddenly set on fire and a Sapsaree, who was following his master Sung-won and keeping guard, repeatedly wets himself by jumping into the river and does all he can to put the fire out. In the process, the dog saves the man's life but the dog dies from exhaustion.

The book, "Uiyeol-do" which includes a story of a rightful cow in Sun-san, a rural region, is a rare example of a book whose historical narration has been well conserved. It might have been due to the Confucianism society that appraised loyalty that stories like these about loyal dogs have been delivered, but it is no doubt that Sapsarees were representative symbols of justice and loyalty.

Original Meaning of Sapsaree is to Drive Away Misfortune

According to the book Mul-Myung-go, which was published in the 19th century, native Korean dogs are divided into Sapsarees, Ba-dok dogs, Duh-pul dogs (shaggy dog), and Bar-bar dogs. We can read people's mind towards the types of dogs at the time, but the original meaning of Sapsaree is "to drive away evil spirits. Literally, "sap" means to remove or drive away and "sar" means evil spirits. Overall, the word "sapsaree" literally means to drive away evil spirits.

In the latter half of the Chosun Dynasty, Sapsarees appear in diverse cultural genres and, since Sapsarees were involved in many of the people's joys and sorrows, they appear in many Korean folk songs and lyrics. In one Korean traditional ballad about dogs, which was orally passed down from Tong-yeong-si, the lyric says, Hey! Hey! Hey Sapsaree! If you hear a leaf making sound. Don't bark because my lover is coming. Hey! Hey! Hey Sapsaree!" In Korean folk songs, dogs frequently appear as a disturber of romance. The songs grieve about the way how Sapsarees interfere with the writer's attempt to secretly make love with his loved one.

"Hey! Hey! Hey Sapsareee! Did I give you that food because I didn't want it? No! I gave it to you so that you wouldn't bark when you see the next-door lad come over." One line of a children song that I liked to sing when I was young is "a toad in the pond, a Sapsaree in the pond." These point to some of our forgotten emotions.

Originally, it is told from the Kyungju district that the Sapsarees were once specially raised by a Silla king. The story that General Yoo-shin Kim took his Sapsaree as a battle dog to a battlefield is passed down in Sannae-myeon. However, as the unified-Silla collapsed, Sapsarees from private residences began to form and flourish in the eastern area of Jirisan and southern region of the Korean peninsula. It is a similar traditional legacy to that of theSapsaree that was raised by Minister Hee Hwang that the Sapsarees were raised to overcome the misfortunes that overwhelmed one's lot and that they were used as repellers of evil spirits and misfortunes in a 99-room mansion.

Among few paintings of dogs that were drawn during the Chosun dynasty that exist today, several depict a Sapsaree. There is one signatured painting (estimated to be from the 18th century) that is 8-folded and contains a page which portrays Sapsaree so artistically with a fine brush and so divine that many are in awe of its impressive artistic detail.

In the painting, behind the crouching Sapsaree, there is a halo in the form of a flame that signifies leadership. The righteous looking face signifies the dignity of Sapsarees. Just as in the saying, "the power to suppress all animals belong to the Sapsaree. How is it that it can only be suppressed by Ichi?" Sapsarees are mystical beasts capable of suppressing all animals.

This picture of a goblin's face with horrifying eyes that has been attached to a body of a Sapsaree with a halo is more than strong enough to crush evil spirits. This is a front-view picture of a crouching Sapsaree with similar atmosphere. The enlarged upper body and goblin's head are very similar to the paintings of original Sapsarees. The eye glare strong enough to suppress evil spirits, big teeth with fist-like nose, and drooped ears covered with long hair all resemble those of the original Sapsarees. It's tail pointing upwards and waving with the wind resembles that of the Owon Sapsaree that barks underneath the paulownia tree while staring at the moon.

In the folk painting titled Moon-bae-do, which was posted on the barn door to drive away evil spirits, there are several resemblances with the paintings of the original and Sim-jeon Sapsarees. The only difference is that the Moon-bae-do painting was drawn with formatted-figures to facilitate mass-production. The tail pointing upwards, its eyes staring at a tilted angle while standing, a mane (long hair on the neck of a lion) surrounding its face, round eyes, thick eyebrows, fist-like nose and drooped ears resemble those of Sapsarees. Both the Moon-bae-do painting and the Sapsarees raised in the front yard for repelling evil spirits help find the origins of the forgotten traditional Korean culture.

It appears that dogs with long hair were recognized as a substitute for a lion and, consequently, were considered valuable in the high society of the Eastern Buddhist culture from long time ago. The long-haired Tibetan Terrier of Tibet resembling the Sapsarees was considered valuable in the Lama Temple, so it earned the nickname of "lion dog" as it was believed to drive away ghosts. During the Tang Dynasty, a small-size Chinese dog named Pekinis, whose nickname was "golden lion dog," could only be raised by royal families. Moreover, this long-haired dog, which is of Tibet origin, is known to have a blood-relationship with other Tibet dogs such as Rassaabso and Shitzu and thought to have been spread to China.

Among wooden and stone animal statues that can be commonly seen in Japanese royal houses, one can find statues of Gomainu (Koryo Dogs or lion dogs). The image of a long haired Gomainu dog, resembling a mythical beast, appears on both sides of the front gate of the National Museum of Korea. The Gomainu dogs, which were placed in front of Sin-sa shrine, have been widely appraised by the Japanese for its ability to drive away misfortune. It has been told that the long-haired Lion dog that was believed to drive away ghosts during the Koryo Dynasty is actually the Gomainu dog.

Since the Koryo Dynasty united with the Baek (White) Dynasty, it is a reasonable explanation that the Gomainu dog, which was brought by the Koryo family, began to be called "white dog." The Gomainu dogs, which were placed in front of the Japanese royal houses and Korean Sin-sa shrines to drive away misfortune, were no other but Sapsarees, also known as lion dogs (it was broadcasted several times in Japan by NHK channel that Gomainu dogs are indeed Sapsarees). The oral tradition of long-haired dogs of the Unified-Silla period, particularly the Sapsarees, being raised only in royal palaces and the relationship between the teacher Kyo-gak Kim respected by both the Chinese and Japanese for being incarnation of Ji-jang Buddha and Sapsarees add to the credibility.

It is very interesting that the pet-raising culture of the three transoceanic nations (China, Japan, and Korea), which were all influenced by Buddhism ideology, can be learned through the Sapsaree Lion dogs. It is partially our lack of creativity that our beloved Sapsarees, which have had such diverse and deep cultural roots, nearly faced extinction, but the main cause is heavily connected to the Japanese colonization, the tragedy of our modern history.

The Tragic History of Our Dogs

Entering the 1930s, Japan's desire for research and preservation of Japanese indigenous dogs, such as Akita (1931), Kiju dogs (1934), Shiba, Bukhae-do-gyeon (1937), began to heat up as conventions were established for protection of indigenous dogs. These dogs were designated as national monuments by the government and earned protection.

With Japan's policy over colonization of Korea, Japan began to search for a Korean dog that resembled a Japanese dog, and, as a result, the Jindo dog became the representative dog of Korea in 1938. To create a standard of Jindo dog, Japan brought its standard Kiju dog and considered all dogs that looked identical to it as pure-bred and slaughtered all other dogs that did not resemble it.

Collecting dog skin became a national policy in 1940, so with an official order from the Japanese regime government, Korean animal skin businesses was established and slaughtered all non-Jindo dogs. The tragic history of our dogs is so unique in that there is no other history like it in the world. During the Daedong-ah War, according to the report, 300,000 to 500,000 dogs were yearly slaughtered and the collected dog skin were shipped to Manchuria and used for making winter clothes for Japanese soldiers. Consequently, the rapid decrease in the number of our Sapsarees, which not only looked nothing like Japanese dogs but also was valiant and good at fighting, much like the nature of Korean people, was inevitable. In fact, the near-extinction of Sapsarees was relevant to Korea's emancipation from Japan and the influx of Western culture, which was favored by the populace. As the idea that anything Western was newer and better, Sapsarees were fading away as people considered them to be just delicious and useful for medication. On the other hand, small-size, long-haired Western dogs began to be increasingly imported and raised and eventually the name of "Sapsaree" was used to name Western dogs.

However, the Sapsarees that inhabited the Korean peninsula for a long time did not completely face its end. In 1960, the professors of Kyungpook National University, despite the unpleasant reaction from the society, began to search for and collect Sapsarees for their research. Yeon-bin Tak and Hwa-sik Kim, who were young professors of veterinary science in their early thirties, determined to find endangered Sapsarees and perform research on them. At the time, Professor Tak, who was both a scholar and investigation committee member of a pet association, was a recognized-expert in the field of dogs. As a result of their investigation, thirty Sapsarees that were of pure-bred and not mixed with any foreign dogs were collected. Most of the pure-bred Sapsarees that were collected were found in the interior mountains of Northern Kyungsang region and Gang-won-do region with 21 (14 female 7 male) in Kyungpook, 2 (2 female) in Kyung-nam, and 7 (4 female 3 male) in Gang-won. Regarding hair color, 18 were black-gray and 12 were yellow. The regional characteristics of these collected dogs are as follows:

Their body is well balanced and both sexes show distinct traits. Particularly, the males have a large head, a chest that is more developed than their abdomen, and whole body covered with long hair. For this reason, males appear to have a wild and lion-like image at a glance. Their physical structure is stable, a steady stomach and hip with a relatively high hip-cross.

These collected Sapsarees showed strong resistance to various contagious diseases and, compared to foreign dogs, they were approved to be physically superior. Their temperaments were fine as well. Their strong loyalty to their master, high level of cautiousness, and possession of firm temperament were confirmed. The researchers argued that the Sapsarees be designated as national monument and that the government provide more protection. However, at the time, Professor Tak's desire to nationally preserve Sapsarees and raise them as national dogs did not receive much support. The society, which was absorbed in its effort to improve its economy, did not have time to worry about the improvement in the breeding of indigenous dogs. However, had it not been for the discernment and passion of the two young professors, the Sapsarees would have forever vanished from the world. All of the Sapsarees that exist today are direct descendants of the Sapsarees that were collected and preserved by these two men.

Sung-jin Ha, who was the academic adviser of these two young professors, was managing a ranch at the time and decided accept most of the Sapsarees from his pupils who were having a difficult time with raising the dogs. As these dogs began to be raised within the fenced ranch located in Beomodong, Daegu, Sapsaree breeding was conserved.

While Professor Ji-Hong Ha was holding office in the Genetic Engineering department at Kyungpook National University in the Spring of 1985, he could find only eight Sapsarees that were remaining in his father's ranch, which was relocated to Hayang-eup, Kyungsan. Due to the poor breeding environment, the Sapsarees were in danger of becoming extinct in a matter of few years. To Professor Ha's eyes, however, these eight Sapsaree were precious.

The preservation of Sapsarees began with putting up a stake on the ranch field for maintenance and building a large house where Sapsarees can live in. After traveling around the country for four to five years to find the other remaining Sapsarees that were previously given to close relatives and friends, he was disappointed to realize that most of the dogs were either of mixed-bred or eaten during Dog Day. For many years, he nearly traveled around every neighborhood with the help of a dog merchant, but failed to find any people who were interested in Sapsarees or any dogs with pure Sapsaree blood. Then, around 1989, the eight Sapsarees that he first started with, grew to thirty. It was in the June of 1989 that he boldly requested the Cultural Property Preservation Bureau to rightfully designate the Sapsarees as national monument as the Jindo dogs had already been designated as one. He was relieved that the Sapsarees were not going to become extinct. It was at this point that the academic circles, press, and government officials began to pour out support and, within a course of several years, research, advertisement, and designating Sapsarees as national monument were altogether greatly advanced. However, there was a major problem that came by surprise.

Demand for Strict Scientific Verification

Reemerging an endangered species does not happen in a matter of one or two years. Although Professor Tak managed to discover pure-breeds of Sapsarees in a mountainside, it is inevitable that these dogs, which have been poorly maintained and used as grazing livestock for a long time, possess impure genes despite their similar outer appearance to pure Sapsarees.

In order for the international society to accept the fact that the Sapsarees are a unique species, a genetic washing procedure was needed to verify the purity of both the inside and outside components of Sapsarees. Although Professor Ha's family raised Sapsarees from 1970 to 1984, the dogs were neither registered nor officially recorded. Consequently, a strict scientific verification procedure such as genetic fingerprinting was necessary to fully preserve the Sapsarees. Professor Ha was not able to sell any of his Sapsarees because they were still in the form of a work under study and not yet ready to officially seal it as a finished project.

As soon as the Sapsarees were designated as national monument and received interest from the press, fake Sapsarees and fabricated pedigree certificates began to appear. Suddenly in 1992, when there was not a single person who was consciously raising a Sapsaree, long-haired dogs began to appear claiming to be Sapsarees and eventually Sapsaree experts and pet associations entered and became busy issuing fake breeding certificate of Sapsarees for self-profit. These people, who devalued and lowered the standards of Sapsarees, kept on finding ways to justify themselves of their actions. For example, one veterinarian kept on insisting that the modern Sapsarees look different from the ones in the past, even though that man had never seen a real Sapsaree before. Professor Ha was not so comforted by a friend of his who told him that all of the struggles and pain that he was going through to reemerge Sapsarees are incomparable to what Jung-ho Kim had to go through, who ended up dying in prison for his effort to publish his Daedong-yeo map. Despite the numerous effort and attempt made by people to devalue the Sapsarees for self-benefit, the breeding and heritage of Sapsarees were retained due to substantial support from generous people who helped with the preservation process.

No Other Animal is Scientifically Researched as well as Sapsarees

It is a great news indeed that no other domestic indigenous animal has as many scientific proof as the Sapsarees have. Although the research started only in 1990 with government support, an international academic symposium regarding the Sapsarees was held in Sejong Cultural Hall in 1997 and around 20 thesis papers have been published in Korea and abroad, sufficient to firmly place the Sapsarees in the academic circle. Currently, there are 350 nearly pure-bred Sapsarees and their database is nearly complete, allowing for great process in systematic development. Sapsarees, which once guarded our village gates, have now become just as competitive and popular as famous breeds like the Shepherds and Collies.

After having lived with Sapsarees, Professor Ha is certain that these Sapsarees will, in the long run, outlast both himself and the people of this generation. Assuming that people who resemble us will continue to live in this land many years from now, they will surely be accompanied and comforted by Sapsarees.