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Korea Putting Heavy Responsibility on Dog Owners

Numerous dog bite incidents, some of which have even resulted in death, have recently been reported, arousing people’s concern about dogs. The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA), announced that ‘Safety Measures for Dog Owners’ will be newly enforced from March. Controversy, however, has flared up due to disagreement over the obligation for dogs to wear muzzles in public. Hashtag movements against mandatory muzzles such as #Against for muzzle #Disagree with criteria of 40cm were also relayed, starting with several celebrities and animal experts including Ha Ri-su and, Lee Ung-jong. The Sungkyun Times (SKT), therefore, analyzes the content of these measures and the issues they might arouse and proposes some possible improvements for them.

The New ‘Safety Measures for Dog Owners’

Background of the Enforcement

The number of pet owners in Korea has increased dramatically over the past few years. According to the Korea Association of the Pet Industry, the percentage of pet owners in Korea has increased from 17.4% in 2010 to 28.8% in 2017. The MAFRA also reported that the pet market has grown from about \900 billion in 2012 to \2 trillion in 2017. Accordingly, the number of dog bite accidents has also increased. The Korea Consumer Agency indicated that dog bite incidents increased more than five times from 245 cases in 2011, to 1,046 in 2017. Consequently, people started to agitate for a change in regulations. On September 1st, 2017, Ju Seung-yong, a member of The People’s Party, proposed an amendment to the Animal Protection Act, which prohibits pets from specific public areas and charges fines to the owners when dangerous dogs wander beyond their living zones. He proposed this act because there was no obvious regulation for the safety management of dangerous dogs in the current acts. On October 23rd, 2017, Jeong Byeong-guk, chairman of the Select Committee for the Bareun Party, also proposed an amendment to the Animal Protection Act. The amendment mainly focused on the obligation to register dangerous dogs, the education for dog owners, and the restriction of dogs in child care facilities and public spaces. With these societal trends, the MAFRA organized the ‘Dog Safety Management Task Force’ as of October 23rd in 2017. It also announced the ‘Safety Measures for Dog Owners’ on January 18th, 2018 after finalizing their discussions.

Before and After: Changes in Regulation

1. Obligation of Leashing Dogs and Muzzling

Before the announcement, Article 12 of the Enforcement Rule of the Animal Protection Act only stated that the length of a leash must be ‘sufficient enough’ to limit dogs from harming other people outside, providing neither the exact length nor the exact dog breeds required to wear a muzzle. Now, however, the new measures propose a specific length of leash and specific criteria for wearing muzzles. In public spaces, the length must be no more than two meters. Also, dogs bigger than 40cm or those that have records of harming people must be managed carefully by their owners and government. These kinds of dogs should be leashed even in narrow spaces and inside of buildings as well as on pedestrian pathways.

2. Detailed Standards for Fierce Dogs

Previously, Article 3 of the Enforcement Rule of the Animal Protection Act indicated six breeds of potentially dangerous dogs: Tosa-dog, American Pit Bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, Rottweiler, and other similar dog breeds. Now, the dogs are sorted into fierce dogs, managed-dogs, and so on. The list of six fierce dogs also expanded to eight kinds. Three breeds of dog, the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire terrier, and the Staffordshire bull terrier, are now integrated into one breed, the Pit Bull Terrier. Newly added dog breeds are the mastiff, Laika, Ovtcharka, Kangal, and wolfdog.

3. Standard Measurement of Punishment

Previously, there was no law related to dog bite incidents, so there was no choice but to punish the owner based only on Articles 266 and 267 of the Criminal Act. When any negligence resulted in injury, the owner of the dog was fined \5 million, and when a person was on a charge of accidental homicide, he or she could be condemned to two years imprisonment or fined up to \7 million won. Now, if a person is in breach of obligation of these measures, they would be subject to criminal prosecution. The pet owner will be fined up to \20 million or be sentenced to two years imprisonment, and the chief of the local government can quarantine dogs or administer euthanasia on the dogs without the owner’s consent. When a victim dies because of a dog attack, the owner would be fined up to \30 million or be sentenced up to three years imprisonment. Even if there are no victims from dog bite accidents, people who notify the police about a dog or its owner not following the law can receive up to 20% of the fine.

Controversies over the Measures

Vague Criteria for Declaring Managed-dogs and Fierce Dogs

The government did not define clear evidence or studies as to the criterion of a dog’s height (40cm); there seems to be no reliability and legitimacy. Also, the Korean Animal Welfare Association and Korea Animal Rights Advocates (KARA) claimed that there is no relation between a dog’s height and aggressiveness. This claim is supported by a study in 2013 from Paul D. McGreevy, a science professor at the University of Sydney. A dog’s size is diverse in all species, and small dogs often show higher levels of aggression and anxiety. Thus, the body shape of a dog and its aggression do not necessarily have a connection. Species of fierce dogs on the new list, furthermore, have some weak points. The French bulldog, which was the species that triggered the new safety measurements by killing someone in October 2017, is not included on the list of fierce dogs.

Danger of Wearing Muzzles and Leashes

If dogs were forced to wear muzzles in the summer, they would have difficulty in ‘panting’, a behavior where dogs stick out their tongues to release heat from their bodies. This process is very important for dogs because, unlike humans, they do not have sweat glands. Considering this fact, the possibility of death due to heat exhaustion can increase and dogs may not be able to walk freely, which is cruel to the animal. In addition, dogs that are rated safe by the experts might exploit the exception to wearing muzzles. Some private companies have already used this rule for commercial advertising and demanded money. For instance, the Korean Standard Dog education center announced that it will provide certification if a dog is qualified, but this program costs anywhere from \100,000 to more than \550,000, which is quite expensive. Also, there are doubts about the safety of the leash itself. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1994, chained dogs showed 2.8 times higher aggression than unchained dogs. This study implies that forcing the wearing of muzzles and leashes alone might not necessarily decrease the number of incidents. Some say that the result of this research is fundamentally based on how the leash puts psychological pressure on dogs because that pressure results in aggressive behaviors. Furthermore, Linda Goodman who is an animal behaviorist emphasized that muzzling or chaining, which prevents dogs from social interaction, can cause stress on dogs because dogs are social animals.

Solutions without Considering Fundamental Issues in Dog Bite Incidents

The new measures did not consider the underlying causes of dog bite incidents. The government set a one-size- fits-all standard for two-meter leashes which did not consider the dogs’ sizes or the breed diversity of dogs. The report-reward measure also aroused the rise of so-called, ‘dogparazzi’. This measure received much criticism for it saw a rise in the use of hidden cameras and the consequential violation of human rights. Fundamental problems lie in the owners’ flawed educational methods and their lack of responsibility, so it is important to reinforce the ‘Safety Measures for Dog Owners’ in order to improve the level of pet owners’ etiquette awareness. Thus, opportunities for education and examinations are needed and should be offered by the government so that dog owners can be qualified to keep their dogs and have accurate knowledge about their pets.

Future of Dog Regulation in Korea

Current Situation of ‘Safety Measures for Dog Owners’

Since the announcement of ‘Safety Measures for Dog Owners’, people have submitted a petition against ‘Dogs Wearing Muzzles’ on the homepage of the Blue House public petition website. They urged the government to provide solutions and measures to solve some of the fundamental problems. It was posted from January 9th to February 8th, and a total of 59,285 people participated in the petition. The petition included limitations to some of the measures and demands for the modification of some of the measures before they become formalized and proclaimed. About 60,000 people agreed that there should be a revision of the measures.

Possible Improvements

First, three problems of the new measures should be revised. The government should conduct further studies and gather data to set appropriate criteria for managed-dogs and fierce dogs. Obligatory muzzle rules for all dogs also have problems because it is hard to regulate every dog within the country. According to the dog bite laws in the United States (US), however, dog owners who have not leashed their dogs when incidents have occurred can be fined more than \1 million or face up to 6 months of imprisonment. Like the US Law, Korea should put more emphasis on punishment especially when the incidents have occurred without a muzzle or leash. Also, the measures need to be revised so that only qualified people can keep dangerous dogs and the criteria to classify the range of fierce dogs are more accurately specified. In New Zealand, there is a licensing system for the management of fierce dogs. A person can get a license for living with dangerous dogs only by passing the examination and qualification criteria. Germany and France already have this kind of license system in place, as well. Finally, Korea should prepare an official education system for the public. Like the Yellow Dog Project which is a global movement for owners of dogs to educate the public and other dog owners to know a dog’s aggressiveness in order to avoid dog bite accidents, guidelines should be provided not only to pet owners, but also to people who do not own dogs in case they face fierce dogs. It is necessary to know how to deal with dogs whether a person has a dog or not in order to decrease damages from dog bite incidents.

After proper education and a strict system are applied, an appropriate “petiquette” culture will be needed to filter throughout Korean society. The government should recognize the importance of these measures, and try to revise them more thoroughly through further debates and discussions. Considering that there are some people who are afraid of dogs and that dog safety regulations can offer the public not only a sense of protection but also peace of mind, measures regarding wearing muzzles and leashes should be reached by consensus. SKT hopes that everyone can agree with the amendments in the future and that pet owners can live in harmony with people who do not own dogs.

박예지  illpray6157@gmail.com

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