[Editorial] Get tough on canine attacks

By Korea Herald

Strong punishment of pet owners needed to prevent dog bite casualties

  • Published : Oct 24, 2017 - 17:35
  • Updated : Oct 25, 2017 - 10:37
Calls for tough rules against pet owners are mounting after a recent high-profile death due to dog bites. The owner of a well-known Korean restaurant died of sepsis six days after being bitten by a French bulldog belonging to an actor and K-pop star. The dog was not leashed nor muzzled when it attacked her.

With the population of pet owners surpassing 10 million in Korea, dog bite incidents have been on the rise. According to the National Fire Agency, the number of victims transported to hospitals after being attacked by pet dogs rose from 1,889 in 2014 to 2,111 in 2016.

In July, a woman in her 70s died after being fatally attacked by her Korean-breed Pungsan dog in Andong, South Gyeongsang Province. In August, four unleashed dogs attacked and severely injured a couple on a stroll in Gochang, North Jeolla Province. Early this month, a 1-year-old baby girl was bitten to death by a Korean-breed Jindo dog her parents raised as a pet at their home in Siheung, Gyeonggi Province. Dog bites should not be taken lightly any longer.

Pets offer psychological and emotional benefits to their owners. But they must not be let loose to attack other people around them. Pet owners often say that their dogs do not bite, but they should know that dogs do not bite their owners, not other people. Dogs could bite others if they feel threatened.

Pet owners must leash their dogs and muzzle fierce ones when outside. In a way, it is ideal for them to leash and muzzle their dogs voluntarily. But the public cannot keep relying on nothing but responsible citizenship or etiquette, as dog bite casualties are increasing.

The root cause of dog attacks is the easygoing and egoistic attitude of pet owners who are not considerate toward other people. This stems from light punishments for violations of the Animal Protection Law, which regulates pet management.

The law requires pet owners to walk their dogs on a leash and muzzle them if they are big and fierce. But the penalty for offenders is a maximum fine of just 500,000 won ($433). Still, the authorities do not crack down hard enough. Only 29 out of 1,224 unleashed dogs reported in the first half of this year resulted in their owners being fined.

From March 22 next year, the government will offer rewards to those who report people walking unleashed dogs, but it would not be easy for ordinary citizens to report those walking their pets. The Seoul city government is considering increasing the number of officials who will crack down on unleashed dogs at parks near the Han River, but the effectiveness of this step is in doubt, considering the infeasibility of a constant clampdown.

The most effective way is the strong punishment of pet owners involved in dog attacks. The scope of ferocious dog breeds needs to be widened. The fine must also be raised sharply and the law must be revised so that pet owners feel compelled to observe the rules out of fear of harsh punishment when dog bite casualties occur. The penalty should be harsh enough to put them on guard to abide by the regulations.

It is worth considering the UK system that demands court approval for those who want to own ferocious dogs. The US also has a licensing system for such owners.

In the UK, the maximum jail sentence for pet owners convicted of a fatal dog attack is 14 years. Police did not investigate the restaurateur’s death, citing settlement between her family and the dog owner.

Tough punishments will have more effect when pet owners change their mindset.

The right to own dogs as life companions is precious. Likewise, the right to dislike dogs and be safe should be respected, too. Pet owners need to put themselves in the shoes of those who do not like dogs.