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[Feature] Calls grow for stronger punishment against killer pet dogs

Last month, the owner of a pit bull terrier that savagely attacked a woman resulting in amputations was sentenced to 18 months in jail.

The 70-something woman had her right leg and some of her left hand fingers amputated after her neighbor’s pet dog broke from its leash and attacked her in December last year in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province. 

An 18-month prison term for the dog owner may appear out of proportion to the near-fatal attack that the victim suffered. But in South Korea, where pet owners tend to face minimal prosecution only in dog attack cases, it was considered an unusually strong punishment. 

Although dog attacks have steadily increased within recent years, in some cases resulting in losses of life, South Korea’s authorities and many dog owners have been slow to react, giving rise to a public outcry for tougher measures. 

According to Korea Consumer Agency, a total of 1,019 dog bite accidents occurred here last year, more than quadrupled from 245 in 2011. 

Early last month, a couple in their 40s were attacked by four unleashed fierce dogs while they were strolling in a park in North Gyeongsang Province. About 10 days later, a year-old baby got her neck bitten by a 7-year-old Jindo, a traditional Korean breed that locals consider as a companion dog at home. The baby died three days after she was taken to the hospital. 

Jindo dogs are not among the five breeds categorized as dangerous dogs by the current Animal Protection Act. Five breeds under the category that must be put on a leash or muzzled in public are American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, the Rottweilers, the Tosa dogs and their mixed breeds. 

A violation of the law can be punished by a penalty of up to 500,000 won.According to 2016 data from the Seoul Metropolitan Government, authorities caught 813 cases of unleashed dogs in public spaces such as parks while just 33 were given a penalty. As of June, 1,224 cases were discovered but only 29 were fined.

“These attacks are caused by a carelessness and weak responsibility of the dog owners. More than punishment or penalties, what’s most important is the change in attitude of dog owners,” said Professor Jung Seung-hwan of Korea University’s Law School. 

In other countries like the UK, prevention and legal measures on the management on fierce dogs were introduced decades ago. The Dangerous Dogs Act enacted in 1991, requires an owner of the fierce dog to get approval by the court when they want to register dogs categorized as fierce dogs -- Pit bull terrier, Tosa dogs, Dogo argentine -- as their pets. 

The law in the UK also bans breeding, sales and exchange of these fierce dogs, while obliging the owners to take out a compensation insurance and get their dogs neutered or spayed. 

Presently, three bills that intend to reinforce the responsibility of fierce dog owners and punishment of owners in the event of dog attacks are pending at the National Assembly. Similar bills were proposed before but discarded in 2006 and 2012. 

By Kim Da-sol (
Korea Herald Youtube