Animals and Pets Culture in Korea
Pets in Korea:
Owning pets is a relatively new phenomenon in Korea. Previously, animals had a very utilitarian purpose in people’s lives – they were workers or food. As the society industrialized and became wealthier, disposable income became the norm for a growing number of Koreans. And the pet industry entered a boom period.
As of the 1990’s, it became a common site to see women carrying small dogs, with faux gem collars, top knots and tail tips dyed pink, lime green, etc. in their purses or in their arms. The dogs accompanied their owners everywhere, including restaurants, supermarkets, etc. There was a perceived distinction between these pampered darlings and their larger brethren, many of whom continued to be viewed from a strictly utilitarian perspective.
However, interest in the companionship of these larger breeds also began to grow among the population, especially as the ‘well-being’ concept took hold and people who, contrary to their parents or grandparents, were now leading sedentary lives, began to consider the health benefits of exercise, including walking their dogs.
Many working dogs are trained to perform various tasks such as helping the blind or disabled, sniffing out contraband or drugs, animal therapy for eldery, autistic or emotionally trouble people, etc. Dogs are also eaten in Korean, as they are in a number of other countries, and this continues to be a very controversial issue here.
Expats coming to live and work in Korea for a period of time can be assured that veterinary care is readily available for both large and small dogs. There are boarding kennels that specialise in housing large breeds with almost all vets providing accomodations for small and even sometimes, large dogs. The percentage of Koreans owning dogs is fast approaching the ratio in my Western countries.
Attitudes towards cats:
As is the case in many Asian countries, cats have not been much like in Korea. They are still seen as vermin by many or even as deliverers of bad fortune. In recent years, a small but growing number of Koreans have begun keeping cats as pets. Cats can be found in Korea because they were useful in controlling rats and as 'medicine' for sufferers of rheumatism. Allegedly, cats may be put in a sack and pounced on the ground or hit with a hammer before being put, sometimes still alive, into boiling water along with ginger, nuts and dates, to make a 'medicine' called goyang soju.
That said these attitudes are fast disappearing, especially among younger urban Koreans, many of whom have become cat lovers. While it used to be difficult to find vets who actually liked cats, it is now increasingly common to see clinics that keep one or more cats on the premises. It has become increasingly easy to find products for cat owners.
Pet Funerals are now legal in Korea. The current law classifies dead pets as 'general disposal' and therefore animals can be disposed of with the household's regular trash. With the legalisation and licensing of pet funeral services, owners can choose cremation or melting the bones into a solid mass, similar to a monument. The process begins at around W15,000, depending on the size of the pet.
On can find gooming shops everywhere. Most operate out of veterinary offices or animal hospitals. The cost depends often on the size of the animal. Although waning in popularity, dying one's dog or cat purple, pink, green, orange, etc. is still somewhat common and groomers will sometimes go ahead and do this for you.....as a service; especially with certain breeds.
Dog food is easily found all over the country. However, it is still harder to find cat food in many places. In areas, where there is a large expat population, one can find both cat and dog food pretty much everywhere. Cat littler is still sometimes a little harder to find and is usually much more expensive than in Europe or North America. Pets are often still seen as a luxury for wealthy people (even though that's not necessarily the case any more) and so pet products are often priced accordingly. Although they have become increasingly affordable, most pet products may still be more expensive than in your home country.
Clothing for your dog and even for cats can be found almost everywhere now. Toys, beds, cushions and almost every pet accessory you can think of can be found in Korea, especially in the urgan areas.\
Places where you can bring your pet or where you can spend time with, usually, dogs are springing up in Seoul and in other areas around the country.
Mistreatment of Animals:
Even though recent regulations and amendment to existing laws have introduced legal protections for animals and penalties for cruelty, these law are still in their infancy. Many of them are not known to the public, or are still in the 'grace' period, meaning that they aren't applicable yet. Moreover, it is not unsual here for laws to be on the books but never, or almost never, enforced. Therefore, we still have dogs chained, unable to walk more than a meter or two, since they are intended as food and/or to be guard dogs. Animals may still be beaten or tortured for health benefit reasons. The government has been attempting to deal with this issue while individual Koreans have become vocal advocate of humane treatment for animals, which is gradually bringing about changes in attitudes in general.
Hotline for Animal Mistreatment: 1797
Information on Animal Protection service of the National Veterinary Research & Quarantine Service, click here.
NOTE: It is reportedly against Korean law to take pets (dogs) away from abusinve owners. People do ignore this law and do rescue animals from cruel/violent situations; individuals and organisations in Korea are working to change the current law. Some amendments were passed in June 2011 (scroll the subject below for more details).
The majority of dogs sold in pet shops in Korea are from puppy mills (this is true in many other countries as well). A puppy mill is a business that mass produces animals. The mothers are bred in every heat cycle until they are worn out and killed, and are often kept in very poor conditions. Puppies from puppy mills often have illness and conditions that may not be apparent right away.
Most owners here want to breed their pet. This is often done so that they can recoup the money they spent buying their dog (usually) or cat (sometimes). This is one of the reasons why animals aren't spayed or neutered until much alter in life, if ever. It's quite common for veterinarians to operate kennels as well, sometimes specialising ina particular breed.
Renting with a Pet:
It is easier to find a property owner willing to rent if the pet is a small dog or even a cat, but no owner is obligated to do so. It is a matter of individual choice and negotiation, and a change of mind is not uncommon...either way. It can be more difficult to find accomodations that will allow larger animals. Many people keep pets illegally in their home - not much difference between Korea and other places around the world.
Adopting/Fostering a pet in Korea.
Training or Boarding
For more about pets in Korea, scroll down and see the titles 'In the same header'.
Photo from www.kindnesstrust.com
Last Updated on 2011-07-05
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