Daniel Kim, who lives in Incheon, is a father of two -- both adopted and with their ages unknown. One of them is a shitzu, presumably 6 years old, that he found on the beach while traveling in Jebudo Island four years ago. Another is a black poodle, found abandoned near his apartment before being adopted by him last year.
“My family started to have more conversations and bonding time thanks to these two that we vowed to love and take good care of,” Kim said. As the shitzu -- named Casso after the pension that he was staying at when he found the dog -- only pees outside, his parents get to exercise every day by taking him for a walk, he said. His mother also started making organic snacks for the dogs and joined a pet club.
“I have always had a soft corner for stray dogs as they are completely deprived of a safe environment where they can eat or sleep. It made me decide to adopt these two and give them love as I felt even closer to them,” he added.
South Korea has been seeing a steady rise in the number of pet owners who decide to adopt rather than buy. According to latest statistics available, over 2,700 animals at some 400 animal shelters nationwide were adopted in 2014, up from just 790 in 2003.
Seoul City is holding a pet adoption service every second and fourth Saturday, from this month to October, in conjunction with civic groups. (Yonhap)
The threefold jump in pets adopted through animal care centers can be attributed to the improved hygiene of pets at such places, said Lim Young-gi, the head of Coexistence of Animal Rights on Earth.
Animal care centers maintain sanitation standards and actively check vaccinations for animals so they can be ready to go to a new home anytime, said Lim.
“People who visit here actually feel a high level of satisfaction when they see dogs and cats kept in a better condition than they expected.”
Some 343 animal care centers, or 93 per cent of them, are funded by local governments, which also conduct regular medical checkups and education on the protection and sanitation of pets.
Ministry data in 2015 showed that 4.57 million families in South Korea, or 10 million individuals, live with pets.
Of them, slightly above 71 percent have dogs, while 13 percent live with cats. Those in their 20s and 30s made up the bulk of pet owners -- 74 percent -- followed by those in their 40s at 13 percent.
There were 880,000 pet dogs registered with the authorities as of 2014, following the compulsory registration law which took effect in January 2014.
A decade ago, most pet purchases were done at Chungmuro Pet Street where a group of pet stores, animal hospitals, groomers, and veterinarian offices are located near subway line No. 3 Chungmuro Station in central Seoul.
But now, more pet breeders are opting to offer animals for adoption through different avenues such as pet care centers, animal hospitals and online pet shops.
Luxe services have also grown popular at animal hospitals, and the number of animal hospitals reached 4,000 last year, with about half of them equipped with pet adoption services.
In line with the rising interest in pet adoption, experts expect the size of pet-related market to swell to 6 trillion won ($882 million) by 2020.
“The booming pet adoption trend is mainly due to an increased number of single households and individuals with high stress levels, who tend to look to their pets to relax,” said Kim Sun-hee from the Korea Consumer Agency in a report.
“Koreans’ changing perception toward pets by accepting them as human companions and friends is another reason,” she added.
With the booming pet culture, there are also more services that cater to them these days.
The number of pet food and product companies was 4,900 in 2014, with an over 17,000-strong workforce and total sales of 680 billion won. There were also a total of 3,640 veterinary business, with 10,500 workers, recording total sales of 780 billion won.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, jobs and government-authorized certificates that specialize in pets are also gaining popularity.
Pet funeral directors, who carry out roughly the same services for pets as for humans that pass away, take care of the funeral process and counseling. Statistics in 2015 showed that the pet funeral service market is worth 90 billion won, triple in size compared to the year before.
This year in January, a new regulation came into effect to stop disposing corpses of pets as garbage, making it easier for pet funeral homes to provide their services.
There are also pet emotion therapists, who can apparently help communication between pets and owners through telepathy and conversation. Pet welfare social workers can also help build up a constructive relationship between owners and their pets.
“There will be more jobs related to pets, just like in the United States where pets are also used as a medium of therapy for elders and depression patients,” professor Chung Hoon of the department of animal resource from Sahmyook University told The Korea Herald.
“We are seeing a growing number of students enrolling for pet-related majors in our university. Nearly 20 percent of students wished to continue their career in the pet business last year, but the number is now well above 40 percent,” Chung added.
By Kim Da-sol (firstname.lastname@example.org)
This is the third installment in a series of articles that look at South Korea’s pet culture and industry.-Ed.