The overall awareness regarding pets has changed to the extent that many people refer to their pets as companion animals. The number of household pets in Korea is approaching ten million, but the number of abandoned animals is also increasing. The increase in abandoned animals is becoming a social problem. The Observer looks into the problems and reports on the condition of abandoned animals locally and nationwide.
Social practices about abandoned animals
Many media outlets and influential people have expressed concern about abandoned animals. The famous entertainer Lee Hyo Ri started a campaign called “Adopt, Don't Buy” to find homes for abandoned dogs. She made a calendar that pictured her with abandoned dogs. She donates all proceeds from the sale of the calendar to the "Korean Society For Animal Freedom." She also donated one ton of feed to help abandoned dogs. She adopted an abandoned dog named Sunsim from Ansung Pyeonggang-Gongju shelter, and it became an inspiration to many others. The reality-variety show “Man's Qualification” showed how to adopt abandoned animals, and also highlighted celebrities that have adopted and raised abandoned animals in 2011. The general public has become more interested in abandoned animals because of the social concern demonstrated by celebrities.
The present state of abandoned animal in Korea
The total number of animals that were abandoned in shelters in Seoul during 2010 was 100,899. Dogs accounted for 58,000 and cats were 42,000. In comparison, the number of animals that were abandoned in 2008 was 77,877 and 2009 was 82,658.
In addition, animal experts estimate the number of abandoned animals on the street is more than 10 times the number that is accounted for in shelters.
In comparison, abandoned animals collected in Daegu in 2011 totaled 4,700. Dogs accounted for roughly 2,100 and cats 2,500. Only 230 dogs were returned to their owners, and only 330 dogs and cats were adopted. Currently, there are 350 abandoned animal shelters registered on the "Animal Protection Management System" web site in Korea. However, there are only three of these shelters registered in Daegu. This is an insufficient number compared with the number of abandoned animals in Daegu. The number of abandoned animal shelters in Seoul totals 115 locations. Seoul has 3 times more abandoned animals than Daegu, but their shelter capacity is more than 30 times that of Daegu.
Abandoned animal shelters in Daegu
KAPS (Korea Animal Protection Society) is the first foundation established for the benefit of abandoned animals in Korea. It is located at 10, Daemyeong-dong, Nam-gu, Daegu. It operates in Nam-gu, Dong-gu, Dalseo-gu, Seo-gu, Buk-gu and Suseong-gu. The "DVMA (Daegu Veterinary Medical Association)" is also one of the abandoned animal shelters in Daegu. It is located in Geomdan Tech Park room 102, Geomdan-dong, Buk-gu, Daegu. DVMA operates in Jung-gu. “Dasa general pet hospital” is located at Jukgok-ri, Dasa-eup, Dalseong-gun, Daegu, and it covers the Dalseong-gun area. There are currently 6,940 abandoned animals in these shelters. Sadly, there are many more abandoned animals that are on the street than there are in the shelters.
The reasons why pets are abandoned
Many pets are abandoned for economic reasons. When the animals get sick or get hurt, owners have to deal with medical expenses. Pets are also abandoned because neighbors complain due to noise and smell. Children who ask their parents for pets also become bored with their pets once they get them, or they realize how much work it is to maintain a pet. Above all, the main reason is their owners did not consider them to be part of their family, which made it easier to let them go.
Need for regulating the pet industry
The pet industry refers to people who buy and sell companion animals for money. The pet market on the internet is the biggest problem. The pet industry is the root cause of why the number of abandoned animals is growing. According to Korean animal protection laws, anyone who goes through a simple registration process can work in the pet industry. In comparison, many foreign countries regulate the pet industry specifically to block people from buying pets on impulse and to protect rights of these animals. For example, in order to run a pet store in the United Kingdom, you must go through a licensing process. Pets cannot be sold to children under the age of 12. They also cannot sell the animals until eight weeks after they are born. The Observer visited KAPS which is located in Daegu to learn more about problems and actual situation of abandoned animals.
KAPS (Korea Animal Protection Society)
The actual conditions at KAPS were very poor. The shelter was old and the site in front of the shelter was under construction. KAPS operates out of two separate buildings. One is an abandoned dog shelter and the other is an abandoned cat shelter. There are many photos and messages written by volunteers posted on the wall of the cramped office. KAPS does not receive adequate financial support from the city government even though their facilities were consigned from the city. They receive funds from the city based on the number of abandoned animals reported. The period of protection for abandoned animals that are reported is 10 days. The money funded from the city is 80,000 won per animal for that period of time. The 80,000 won is supposed to cover all expenses including personnel expenses, transportation costs, and disposal costs if the animal dies. Funds have been grossly inadequate for years. Ju-Yeong Moon, the manager of KAPS said “The rest of the money for expenses comes from sponsorships and private donations from the foundation administrator. The shortage in financial support is severe."
The attitude of foreigners regarding abandoned animals differs greatly from ours. Most Koreans usually want to adopt young and small dogs and cats, but many foreigners are willing to adopt older and bigger animals to give them a more comfortable life. Many foreigners visit KAPS to volunteer their time and effort. However, the manager of KAPS said, "Many volunteers come to volunteer on weekends, but most students come to earn extra credit for school. They are not much help to us. We actually hope they do not come if they are not sincerely interested in helping abandoned animals.” We need to change awareness about abandoned animals as well as students’ attitudes toward the meaning of volunteer work. On average, more than 10 abandoned animals are reported every day. There are 30-40 abandoned dogs being sheltered at KAPS right now, but sometimes there are more than 60. There are about 100 abandoned cats there now as well. The manager also mentioned the risk if one dog or cat has an infectious disease, the others can catch the disease from the one and all the animals can be at great risk. Some abandoned dogs wait for their owners for 1 or 2 days and they cannot eat or drink water after the third day because of the stress of being abandoned. In more serious cases, they are unable to adapt to the new environment and eventually die because of the stress. There are also happy endings after dogs are adopted by a new family. An abandoned dog that was sheltered at KAPS was afraid of people. The dog avoided men especially, because of memories of being attacked by a man. However, the light in his eyes changed and his desire to avoid people faded after he was adopted and loved by a new owner. On the other hand, there are some cases where adoptions are dissolved because new owners are irresponsible.
If abandoned animals are not spayed or neutered, the number of abandoned animals can increase. The manager emphasized that these operations are the most effective way to stop the increasing number of abandoned animals.
There are many special animals being sheltered at Hanna’s house which is located at Dohack 1-dong, Dong-gu, Daegu. Hanna’s house is operated without direct support from the government. Hanna’s house is not a special facility. It is just a regular person’s house. It was easy to find by using the bus. Moreover, Hanna’s house is located in a better environment than KAPS because they raise the animals outside. People in the neighborhood refer to the owner of the house/shelter as “Hanna’s Mom.” This is because everyone knows her daughter’s name. That is where the name of the shelter came from. We were especially impressed that “Hanna’s Mom” lived at the animal shelter. The name of Hanna's mom is actually Sang-Hee Shin, and she lives with the abandoned animals every day. The abandoned animals that are living at Hanna’s house have individual names. Ms. Shin grooms the animals, and provides health control. Abandoned animals that are weak or ill live separately. There are many ways to volunteer at Hanna’s house. If you want more information, please visit: http://cafe.naver.com/vkfrhdtks1004.cafe. First, we can donate items that the animals need. A list of necessary items is posted weekly on the internet cafe. Second, we can do regular service. You can sign up participate at the internet cafe (Let’s serve together). Third, we can adopt abandoned animals.
Sarang- Sarang entered Hanna’s house on July 1st 2012. Sarang had an owner, but when the owner drank too much, the owner abused him. Therefore, even though Sarang is a big dog, he shudders in fear and is very meek. Bongdal, Bongsik- These dogs witnessed their mother being killed by their owner. After that, if these dogs see any person, they shudder with fear.
Interview with a pet adopter
Ji-Suk Shin at Hanna’s house
Q) What made you adopt a dog at Hanna’s house?
A) One of my acquaintances recommended it to me. Recently, I adopted a dog while volunteering at Hanna’s house. I have had the dog for about 3-4 months now.
Q) Do you often come to volunteer at Hanna’s house?
A) I come here often. Maybe, because I adopted an abandoned dog, I am more interested in dogs.
Q) Is it rewarding to adopt an abandoned dog?
A) I feel really great. Sometimes I feel tired and I think life is difficult when I arrive at my home, but I feel good when I see my dog. After I see my dog I feel like I have done something good no matter how bad my day has been.
Interview with Hanna’s mom
Q) What made you decide to shelter so many abandoned animals?
A) I saw abandoned animals wandering the streets. It made me sad so I took in an abandoned dog. Then I took in another, and another, and another. As I was doing this, the number of abandoned animals increased gradually. At first, I sheltered about 10 animals, but I was not able to have them spayed and neutered, so eventually I had 40 animals. Afterward I was able to take all the animals to a veterinarian to have the necessary operations. Currently, I have 100 dogs and 14 cats including 40 dogs from the shelter in Dong-gu Daegu that closed down.
Q) How do you start your daily schedule?
A) It is important to be hygienic because I raise animals. Therefore, when I start the day, I bathe my animals. I only leave the house when I go to the animal hospital.
Q) Are there any difficulties operating without support from the government?
A) Of course, there are difficulties. I feel pressured economically because of the number of animals I care for. For example, the cost of feed, medical expenses, and everything else that needs to be paid for. However, there are shops in the area that know about our circumstances, and they sell me feed at cost. Moreover, the internet cafe was created last year and it has provided me with a lot of help.
Q) When does your work feel the most rewarding?
A) I feel great when abandoned animals are adopted into good homes. Although I feel sad when a dog leaves, I feel good when the look in a dog’s eyes changes because they feel their new owner’s love after they are adopted. Hearing stories about successful adoptions is the most rewarding aspect of my work.
Q) Is there any advice you want to give people who have pets?
A) Above all, if you cannot be responsible for a pet, I hope you do not get one. Even though you might consider it sometimes, you would never turn your children out into the street. I hope you raise your pet like you raise your children.
Registration system for animal companions
The registration system of animal companions is a national system. If you lose an animal, this system can help you search for it. The system also deals with abandoned animals and the management of vaccination records. With this system, micro-chips are implanted into dogs. The micro-chip includes a country code, a municipal code, an animal identification number, the owner’s name and address, and other important information. There is also radio recognition equipment in the chip that serves as an electronic registration and identification tag. Currently, Busan, Jeju, and Incheon have enacted this system as well as some areas in Gyeonggi-do. Namdong-gu in Incheon is also giving this system a trial.
The government enforces registration systems of animal companions nationally except in rural areas and cities with a population under 100,000. Apartments or houses where animals are to be raised must register at least three months in advance. If you break these regulations, you can be fined. However, some people oppose the registration system of animal companions because they believe it can affect the health of animals. Some believe the injection of the chip can cause malignant tumors.
A few years ago, abandoned animals emerged as a social problem. A lot of animals are abandoned because of irresponsible owners. However, shelters still experience difficulties due to lack of financial support. A lot of people have to know animals are precious living creatures and not toys. To solve this social problem, we need to make an effort to improve recognition about abandoned animals. First, and most importantly, we have to take responsibility for our animals. Moreover, we have to cooperate and find solutions and solve these problems before it becomes even worse.