The first time I met my friend Robert Joe was at a picnic on a little island on the Han River in Seoul. He had brought Dubu, his beloved Samoyed, and three tubs of Baskin Robbins ice cream to share. The ice cream went uneaten, because the crowd’s attention was on Dubu.
Dubu, meaning "tofu" in Korean, is something of a minor celebrity in Seoul — a country that favors smaller dogs. He’s already eye-catching enough in all of his majestic 65-pound glory, but for the past five years, Robert has elevated Dubu's adorableness with increasingly elaborate Halloween costumes. The two of them have dressed up as duos from Peanuts, Game of Thrones, and Guardians of the Galaxy.
But Robert and Dubu's love for Halloween goes beyond cute outfits. The holiday is a celebration. On Halloween of 2009, Dubu was scheduled for euthanasia at a shelter. Robert rescued him.
Dubu's look has afforded him a degree of internet stardom in the Korean blogosphere, with big features in Huffington Post Korea and Pikicast, but his story has helped to leverage the fame for a good cause. "Every time I talk about it, I mention adopting shelter dogs," Robert told me. "It’s meaningful to me in that sense, because it’s a good platform to spread the message of 'adopt, not shop.'"
For this year’s costume, Robert spent about two weeks hand-sewing a Princess Mononoke doll to be perched atop Dubu. As for Robert, he'll be dressed as a Nightwalker.
Dubu's reactions to the costumes vary each year. "He was okay with Rocket Raccoon, but he hated Snoopy," said Robert. "He also hated Princess Mononoke though I thought he'd be okay because I didn't cover his ears. In his mind it was just some weird felt goblin who wouldn't get off his back I think."
Robert tells me owning a dog wasn't something he ever thought about until he saw Dubu face-to-face in the shelter. "If I hadn't googled "Samoyed Seoul" one day on a whim after visiting a dog cafe and fallen in love with his picture, he could be dead," said Robert. "It was all just too much of a perfect coincidence to pass up and it had that extra meaning. Plus Halloween was always my favorite holiday so it just worked out. He's the center of a lot in my life."
If you love seeing dogs on the internet, consider visiting a shelter. Maybe you'll find your own Dubu.