“When I opened the door and encountered the place, I thought it was just too unrealistic,” the employee surnamed Lee told The Korea Herald in a phone interview. “The first impression I had was, how can a human being do such a thing?”
His comments came after the Korean Animal Welfare Association disclosed the deaths of the dogs to the public on Tuesday. A total of 79 dogs were found dead, while 80 were spotted alive, mixed in with the dead animals on the first and second floors of the store located in Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province, according to KAWA.
Lee said he was not aware of the situation until he went to the second floor for the first time on Feb. 3. He asked the pet shop owner about the dead dogs, but got no answer.
The shop owner, accused of the alleged animal abuse, reportedly said he had sent only sick dogs to the second floor.
“The supposed caregiver barely cleaned the store and never washed the dogs,” Lee claimed. “Once the owner discovered symptoms of an infectious disease from a dog, the animal was sent straight to the second floor. Only the shop owner and a store manager were allowed to access the space.“
|Activists from Korean Animal Welfare Association holds a press conference at Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul. (Korean Animal Welfare Association)|
Lee could get into the area, three weeks after he started working at the store, as the owner told him to move a sick dog there. Lee tipped off the KAWA about the animal abuse on Feb. 9.
KAWA said that there were no signs of feeding or caring of the dogs at the pet store.
Urine and feces remained untouched in the first floor as well, where another 80 living dogs stayed. There was another dog found dead on the first floor.
The organization immediately rescued nine dogs, which were found in near fatal condition, with three of them dying later that day. The death toll seems to have increased as measles and parvovirus affected many of the dogs.
Due to the infectious diseases, they will be kept in the store until the end of February before they are moved to a city’s temporary animal shelter. The owner abandoned the ownership of the dogs after the whistleblower spoke out, KAWA said.
The store billed itself as a temporary animal shelter, but Lee claimed it was not different to an ordinary pet shop. After dog owners abandoned their dogs to the store for a fee, the shop owner sold them again to others. Depending on the dog’s age, the fee ranged between 50,000 won ($46) to 100,000 won ($93), according to Lee.
Many of the dogs were brought in from the pet dog auction market, Lee said.
|A dog is seen alive at a pet store in Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province, where 79 dogs were found dead. (Korean Animal Welfare Association)|
Cheonan Dongnam police station is investigating the case, while the animal division of Cheonan City requested autopsies of five dogs. If any proof of animal abuse is found during the investigation, including starvation or negligence, the shop owner will receive a fine of up to 10 million won ($9,300) and a six-month suspension of business.
KAWA held a press conference at Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul, on Tuesday and called for a thorough investigation of the case.
“It might seem like a misconduct of an individual,” Chae Il-taek, an official from KAWA, told The Korea Herald, “But structural problems lie behind the case. Too many pet store owners are making money by reselling the abandoned dogs or buying puppies from illegal dog farms. Our organization will keep watching the case and make efforts to solve such problems.”
By Park Ju-young (firstname.lastname@example.org)