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[Animals in Korea (3)] Why are so many dogs abandoned and killed?

Experts point to overbreeding, irresponsible purchasing

A photo of a white Maltese mix waiting for euthanasia uploaded on online animal adoption platform, Pawinhand (Animal shelter in Jangseong-gun)
A photo of a white Maltese mix waiting for euthanasia uploaded on online animal adoption platform, Pawinhand (Animal shelter in Jangseong-gun)
A photo of a white Maltese mix with a hopeless look on his face was posted on an animal adoption platform, Pawinhand, early this month. The message read, “Please take a look at this puppy whose deadline is over.”

This means a monthlong period to find a new owner was over and he would soon be euthanized.

The white dog was abandoned in a village this past winter with some dog supplies, according to local residents, and was rescued by an animal shelter after wandering the village for months, according to Lee Se-ra, a manager at the shelter for abandoned animals run by the regional government in Jangseong-gun, a county in South Jeolla Province.

Lee said the dog is so well-behaved that he even stays still during grooming.

“We haven’t been able to kill the dog yet because we got attached to him. The hardest job is to kill an animal that we’ve become close to,” she said.

Still, Lee said they will have no choice but to carry out euthanasia when more abandoned dogs come in and the already overflowing shelter can no longer handle their numbers.

Sadly, the white Maltese mix is just one among many dogs waiting to be put down at 284 public shelters nationwide.

About 5,000 dogs and cats entered shelters over the month from Feb. 23 to March 23, according to the state-run Animal Protection Management System website. If animals aren’t adopted within a month, they can be put down under the animal protection regulations.

Some of the animals facing euthanasia are rescued by civic groups and sent to privately funded animal shelters, but they too face an overflow of animals in need.

According to the latest data released by the government in May last year, 135,791 animals entered shelters in 2019, up 12 percent from the previous year. Of these, 22 percent were euthanized.

Experts say that figure is only an official tally, and that many more animals lose their homes every year.

Why are so many dogs abandoned and euthanized?

Experts say there is too much unnecessary “production” of dogs, for starters.

“Although many dogs are waiting for new owners in shelters, many Koreans don’t want to adopt them. They think the dogs are dirty and defective,” said Ham Hyeong-sun, chief of the animal-focused civic group WeAct.

“What many want are pricey, purebred dogs under 60 days old, available in pet shops or from home breeders. Inevitably, the ‘production’ market -- either legal or illegal -- grows to meet the demand,” she said.

The number of licensed breeding businesses in Korea stands at about 2,000, and pet shops number about 4,000. Unofficial estimates put the number of unregistered breeders at thousands more, and the number of people breeding and selling dogs from home is on the rise.

“There are too many breeding mills here. Many young dogs are forced to keep conceiving in cramped, dirty environments, which results in weak, sick puppies. They are then easily thrown away,” said Hong Wan-sik, a professor at Konkuk University Law School, author of “Legal Common Sense of Pets” and chair of the Korea Animal Law Research Society.

“Starting with illegal ones, the number of breeding mills should be reduced through strong regulations. And the management and supervision for legal ones should also be strengthened, as in the case of Germany,” he said.

In Germany, breeding facilities have to meet strict conditions to prevent the reckless breeding of puppies. Dogs can have only a certain number of litters, breeders must keep detailed records on puppies and mother dogs, and there are rules governing the sale of puppies.

“Reducing the number of breeding mills can create a virtuous cycle by making a better environment for mother dogs, having healthy puppies and encouraging adoption rather than buying,” Hong said.

Another reason that dogs are so easily abandoned is the ease with which dogs can be purchased, experts say.

“In Korea, we can buy dogs and cats too easily and irresponsibly. That’s why they are easily abandoned. In some countries, like Germany and Japan, it is much harder to buy animals,” Hong said.

German dog owners must register their dogs in the national management system and link each dog’s registration number with an internal microchip or tattoo. Vaccinations and medical examinations are also mandatory. To have a dog, it costs thousands of dollars and requires a significant investment of time, so only those who are willing to devote themselves to their dogs will own dogs.

Japan also requires strict procedures for dog sales, adoptions and registration. Before buying or adopting, prospective owners must answer about 100 questions, including questions about their residence and occupation, the average amount of time they will spend with the dog every day and the dog’s living environment.

Lee Woong-jong, CEO of the Esac animal training center, said, “Many Koreans adopt dogs simply because they are lonely and the animals are cute, and, after adoption, they realize there are a lot of things to do for their dogs.

“They have to go to the hospital, give them a bath, give them training, take them for a walk and buy them pet supplies. They also face problems such as high hospital bills, barking or separation anxiety. Then the dog becomes a burden and is thrown away,” he said.

Lee said a simple educational program should be required before anyone can buy or adopt a dog to make potential owners think twice about whether they can take full responsibility for that life, no matter what.

By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)

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