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The Present State of Animal Shelters in Korea

Doubts have recently emerged over Park So-yeon, a representative of the animal rights group, Coexistence of Animal Rights on Earth (Care). She is suspected of embezzling contributions, working with butchers, and undiscriminatingly administering euthanasia at animal shelters in January this year. Other than animal euthanasia, many animal shelters have had problems with a lack of space and the mistreatment of animals. Accordingly, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) now looks at animal shelters in Korea, the controversies surrounding them, and how Korean animal shelters can make positive changes.

Animal Shelters in Korea

Role and Types of Animal Shelters

Animal shelters are places where abandoned, lost, or stray animals are treated and protected for about ten days or more after they are rescued. Most animals in shelters are abandoned. Then, they help the animals to get adopted, seeking for adopters through advertisement. There are two main kinds of animal shelters: municipal animal shelters and private animal shelters. Municipal animal shelters are divided into direct shelters and entrusted shelters. Direct shelters are managed by local governments, while entrusted shelters are managed by individuals or organizations chosen through bids or private contracts. The government stated there were only 28 direct shelters, which was under 10 percent of the total 307 municipal animal shelters in 2017. Meanwhile, private shelters are run by individuals or animal protection organizations. It is hard to figure out the exact number since they are out of the government’s control. Jeon Jin-kyung, a director of Korea Animal Rights Advocates (KARA), the animal rights activist group, expects that the number of private animal shelters is now over 150.

The Background of the Introduction of Animal Shelters

Private shelters were firstly introduced in Korea after the establishment of the Korea Animal Protection Society (KAPS). Projects set up for rescuing and managing animals were expanded gradually over the country when Seoul assigned rescue work to the Korea Animal Rescue and Management Association (KARMA). Until the mid-2000s, many business owners, such as breeders and animal sellers, were able to run animal shelters because there was no qualification except for possessing facilities. As the number of abandoned animals grew, local governments starting from Seoul and Gwangju, figured out that it was hard to manage all of them within an entrusting system, so they began to install municipal shelters in about the year 2000.

Controversies over Animal Shelters

Poor Environment and Animal Abuse

Animal shelters should be equipped with different quarantine systems, ventilation systems, and more, according to the species that they are looking after. In contrast, lots of shelters do not have such facilities because of the budget crunch. They even put dogs and cats in the same cages, which can cause cross infections. Panleukopenia is a typical example of this and it can be fatal to cats, but not to dogs. Lots of animals die from cross infections.

Poor Environment of Animal Shelters in Korea (kihoilbo.co.kr)

Moreover, some animal shelters abuse animals. To clarify, according to animal protection law, animal abuse refers to actions that cause animals to suffer from unnecessary or avoidable physical pain and become stressed without fair reason, or actions of leaving animals alone or neglecting their starvation or diseases. In October 2018, the director of one animal shelter was sent to the police station on suspicion of leaving a dog for dead in a freezer and killing another dog by putting it in a car trunk with no air conditioning, and in scorching heat.

The Legal Loopholes

Guidelines and laws for animal shelters are not specific and compulsory enough so that numerous animal shelters do not obey them, triggering problems and lacking necessary systems. Operating guidelines for animal shelters enacted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA) in 2016 are not concrete and coercive. For example, the guidelines use ambiguous expressions, like saying that “a director should place ‘proper’ manpower to complete works sequentially”. They also recommend the scale of shelters according to the size of cats and dogs, but do not force the animal shelters to adhere to this. There are not even certain standards of fines and punishments that can be imposed when contravening guidelines and laws. Furthermore, Korean laws do not regulate how individuals and private animal shelters should administer euthanasia and in what situations they should do so. They operate in a blind spot as the government does not supervise private shelters. In fact, there are incidents like the situation with Park So-yeon, a representative of the animal rights organization, who is suspected of killing hundreds of dogs under indiscriminate euthanasia.

Lack of Professional Workers

Capability to manage all animals is downgraded because many animal shelters hire few veterinarians. For instance, one veterinarian was taking care of more than 100 animals in an animal shelter in October 2017. In 2011, the MAFRA investigated 38 animal shelters in Korea concentrating on regions where many abandoned animals live, through conducting a field study and literature review beforehand. The research found out that, 31 animal shelters were entrusted to animal hospitals and only 5 shelters employed full-time working veterinarians. Smallscale animal shelters can manage diseases by entrusting animals to local animal hospitals, but full-time medical teams are indispensable to middle-sized and large shelters. Animal shelters in Korea have not been developed as many shelters in the United States (U.S.) yet. For example, the veterinary college at Cornell University in the U.S. has a shelter medicine course. Students learn how to take care of animals in shelters and take an internship at shelters for about a year. Schools also ensure liaison with other schools and exchange programs. Through this course, the schools educate future medical workers to build appropriate awareness and knowledge. It is, however, not only veterinarians, but also government workers that are not fulfilled. The Animal Welfare and Policy Team, a MAFRA-affiliated department was established in June 2017. It is the only department related to abandoned animals in the government. There are only six public officials in this team, which is not enough to manage all jobs related to abandoned animals.

Directions for Positive Changes in Animal Shelters

Stable Economic Support

62 percent of municipal animal shelters received subsidies of between 80,000 won and 150,000 won, and only 2 percent received more than 200,000 won. Increasing subsidies could help some animal shelters which have a lack of money to hire professionals, widen and upgrade facilities to provide more care to animals, since they do not have the stable economic ability to operate the shelters now. Animal shelters need to state usages of money including subsidies and contributions officially for transparent and efficient management. Furthermore, referring to Tierheim Berlin, the animal shelter in Germany, where their operating expenses are fulfilled by donations, animal shelters in Korea could design their future to be independent from the government both economically and administratively after they are fully systematized in the right ways.

Government Officials in Animal Shelters (kwhumane.com)

Amending Laws and Guidelines

Entrusting animal shelters are usually more problematic than direct animal shelters. It is hard to figure out the exact information and status of entrusting animal shelters. This is because entrusting animal shelters is not under the control of local governments, while direct shelters run contracts with local governments. Entrusting facilities are determined by the lowest bid. If there is no one wanting to bid, individuals or organizations with deficient knowledge and consciousness about animals can be selected. At entrusted animal shelters, the cost of caring for one animal is only 100,000 won, so animals cannot get good care. Converting entrusted animal shelters into direct animal shelters would enhance the quality and performance of shelters by knowing the definite reality of them. Though it will take more time and money, the government should investigate entrusted shelters thoroughly and apply related laws accordingly. Moreover, another department for abandoned animals and animal shelters is necessary. The Netherlands had the largest number of dogs in Europe in the 19th century. Poor sanitation and dogs caused hydrophobia, killing lots of people. Therefore many people abandoned their dogs, scared of death. As the number of stray animals increased, the government of the Netherlands established a special department under the national police force to watch abandoned animals and animal abuse, with campaigns for neutralizing surgery and teaching responsibilities that come after raising animals. Now, the Netherlands is one of the leading countries regarding animal welfare.

Issues regarding abandoned animals and animal shelters have instigated arguments for many years, but still, they have not been solved. Korean society needs to take these problems in social discourse and discuss how to settle them. Kingos should also keep this issue in mind and have the right awareness of animals and animal shelters.

이소윤  allybypen@skku.com

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