STERLING — In an industrial area of Dulles International Airport where cargo is handled, four travel-weary dogs walked circles in a grassy patch after a two-day, transcontinental journey from South Korea.

By early evening, they were put back into their crates and loaded into a van bound for the Richmond SPCA, where they will eventually be placed for adoption. They were to be joined by two more groups of dogs arriving on later flights.

The 14 dogs destined for Richmond were rescued from a dog meat farm in South Korea, where they would have been prepared for slaughter — up to 2.5 million dogs in the country each year meet that fate, said Robin Starr, CEO of the Richmond SPCA.

“Dogs like this that have been saved from this fate are incredibly fortunate,” Starr said. “We’re just so happy to get to be a part of saving their lives.”

Since 2014, when Humane Society International began working to end the dog meat trade in South Korea, 540 dogs from the country have been brought to the U.S. and Canada, said Matt Gray, Virginia state director at the Humane Society of the United States. Rescued dogs have been taken to several shelters in Virginia, including in Alexandria, Arlington County and Roanoke.

The Richmond SPCA has previously sheltered dogs displaced by natural disasters elsewhere in the country, but the dogs that arrived Friday were the first brought from overseas.

The dogs are raised for human consumption, making them larger in size. Because there isn’t a market in South Korea for large dogs as pets, Gray said they are transferred to the U.S.

According to Humane Society International’s website, dogs bred at these farms often suffer from disease and malnutrition and are subjected to “daily neglect or even deliberate cruelty.”

The dogs headed for Richmond were rescued from a meat farm in Jeonju, South Korea, and were sheltered, vaccinated and quarantined in Daegu and Isla before being flown to San Francisco and, eventually, Dulles, according to the Richmond SPCA.

Abbey Howarth, a spokeswoman for the Richmond SPCA, said she was told by Humane Society representatives that Korean officials found the dog meat farm to be operating illegally and ordered it to close after the officials were tipped off by neighbors.

Starr said the group of dogs consists of nine males and five females, including a mother and her litter. It’s unlikely the dogs, most of whom are a year or two old, are “any breed that we would recognize,” she said.

The dogs’ first few days in the country will entail veterinary and behavioral checks. There was also talk of naming the dogs, perhaps after South Korean cities or Korean pop stars.

Starr said she expects some of the animals to be ready for adoption in about a week or so.

“When we save the lives of animals that were really facing not only short lives of utter misery but then a terrible death, nothing could be more central to the accomplishment of that,” she said.

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dtruong@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6734

Twitter: @debbietruong

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