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Pet Abandonment: How Serious Is It? 

Every summer the number of cases regarding pet abandonment increases. In fact, this July holds the highest number with 13,700 reports. When pets are first adopted, they are warmly welcomed as family members. As time goes by, however, the pet owners realize the heavy duties of raising a pet and some of them make the wrong choice. This usually happens during summer vacation because the family plans on a trip and has to leave their pets alone at home for a long time. The owners decide to drop their pets on the way to their trip, somewhere far from home, to prevent the pet from returning home. Such cruelty must come to a stop. The Sungkyun Times (SKT) will now discuss the general issues of pet abandonment, its possible causes, and the possible solutions.

General Issues Regarding Pet Abandonment

Current State of Pet Abandonment

⦁⦁ The Rise of Pet Abandonment

Pet abandonment is considered to be animal abuse according to Korean law and it is done either intentionally or accidentally. There are many reasons for the abandonment: people’s pets outgrew the cute phase, the owners had financial problems, or they simply got tired of their pets. The number of reported cases in regard to pet abandonment continuously rises every year. According to the Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency (QIA), the number of pets rescued in 2019 is a total of 135,791 cases which is a 12% rise compared to the number in 2018, and the number of cases has been increased steadily since 2016. It has further stated that the number of pet abandonments rises during the vacation period. The highest number of pet abandonments reported in 2019 was from July to August. This was followed by September to October, during the Korean Thanksgiving holiday, reaching a total of 26,067 cases. For instance, there was a case back in July 2018 in Cheongju city, where a dog cage was thrown in an alley. Inside the cage, there were two Shih Tzus. One of them was already dead while the other was slowly dying from hunger and the summer heat. The place where the pets were found was an alley on the way to an amusement park, which made the animal shelter assume they were abandoned pets.

Abandoned Pets (koreaherald.com)

⦁⦁ The Current State of Animal Shelters

Every summer pet shelters are overloaded with animals. It is estimated that 10,000 pets get abandoned every year while there are only 282 animal shelters in the country. There are two types of animal shelters: public and private. In public animal shelters, the operation of the shelter can be checked on by the surveys done by the government. On the other hand, for private animal shelters, it is hard to analyze the total number of pets it handles since there are no official statistics. Furthermore, since the government always keeps an eye on the public animal shelters, the usage of euthanasia in the public shelters is lower than that in private animal shelters. It would be ideal to expand the number of public animal shelters, but it costs a lot of money and needs more workers and volunteers, which is not enough even in the current state. It would be ideal to properly look over the animal shelters, however, due to a lack of supervision, there was an illegal incident in Jeju island during 2019, when a public animal shelter sold the bodies of the dogs to be used as the raw materials for dog food. They rendered the bodies and sold the powdered remains of the dogs to dog food companies outside of Jeju island.

The Sad Reality of Abandoned Animals

The number of abandoned animals continuously increases while the capacity of the shelters decreases, which is why euthanasia happens. Under the current animal protection law, after 10 days of coming to the shelter, the shelter may legally use euthanasia. This usually happens to older pets, who have lower chances of being adopted. Also, abandoned animals who were not sent to the shelter are not protected from the dangers of society. There was a case in Gyeonggi-do in 2019, where an abandoned dog was illegally slaughtered by two men.

Possible Causes of Pet Abandonment

Weak Implementation of the Law

The Animal Protection Law was first made in 1991, and according to the law, abandoning a pet is illegal, and the abandonment can be met with a fine of up to three million won. However, it is difficult to control and fine these cases. Either a video of the person abandoning their pet or a confession is needed before they can be fined. Furthermore, if the owner ends up killing the pet, the owner can be sentenced to jail for up to two years or be fined up to 20 million won. Likewise, however, there are few cases that were properly punished. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA), from 2017 to May of 2019, there was a total of 1,546 animal abuse cases reported, and only one was sentenced to jail. To worsen the situation, it is legally difficult to save the animals who are being abused without the consent of the owner. Even if you report the owner to the police, unless the pet dies, the police cannot do much except to warn the owner. This is because pets are classified as materials or one’s property under Korean Law.

To lessen the number of pet abandonments and to punish the owners rightfully, the government implemented a new law in 2014, called the animal registration system. A microchip will be inserted into the animal, which will keep track of to whom the pet belongs. The response of the people, however, was tepid and many felt it was unnecessary. When a survey regarding the new law was conducted in 2018, 49.7% of the people answered: they did not see the importance of it.

Reasons for Not Participating (m.blog.naver.com)

Problems in Regard to Pet Adoption

⦁⦁ Quick and Simple Process

One of the biggest reasons for the increasing number of pet abandonments would be the quick and simple steps of adoption. People usually adopt a pet through pet shops, because it would take less than an hour to adopt a pet, buy the pet’s necessities, and leave the pet shop. Due to this simplicity, people who are not capable of raising pets are given easy access. Since there are no steps like interviews or inspection of documents, whether to see if the person is qualified or not, they are unprepared and filled with fantasies that are shown from the short clips online. By the time they realize that it is too much of a hassle for them, they would decide to abandon their pets.

⦁⦁ The Adoption That Follows the Trend

Unfortunately, there are some people who only view animals as pretty accessories instead of seeing them as valuable lives. That is why it is not uncommon to see certain breeds trending. Just like how black sugar was in trend, different breeds also take turns in trending. It especially becomes controversial when a celebrity adopts a certain breed. This then leads to the breed being called a “star breed” or some even go as far as to call it a “celebrity’s pet”. This type of effect is shown because the celebrities, themselves, are already a marketing strategy. For example, famous comedian Ju Byeong-jin appeared on television shows with his Welsh Corgi pets, Dae, Joong, and So. Also, in the show My Little Old Boy, the scene where the dogs appeared hit the highest rating views of 20.1% and were given the title best one minute of the episode. After being shown on television, those breeds increased in popularity and enjoyed short-lived fame. This is why there are cases of people who easily take up on adoption without proper background information regarding the animal or breed. This usually ends with the pet getting abandoned when the trend changes. Also, when a breed starts garnering interest, the number of adoptions for such a breed suddenly increases. To satisfy the supply of needs, pet shops work hand-in-hand with puppy farms. Puppy farms are categorized as an illegal business since they abuse the animals and make them work, which goes against the animal protection law.

In 2017, according to the Korea Kennel Federation, the two highest number of registered breeds in South Korea were Bichon Frise and Pomeranian. They gained a sudden rise in popularity from two to three years ago. Followed by another statistic released by the QIA, stating back in 2010, there were a total of 399 cases of Pomeranian breeds abandoned. In 2018, however, the number of cases rapidly increased to 652 cases. This shows the reality of just how much people easily decide on adoption simply because the physical appearance is appealing.

Possible Solutions

Strengthening the Adoption Process

The responsibility and devotion of the adopters should be tested through the strict adoption procedures. That way, people who simply wish to adopt irresponsibly to enjoy a short moment of cuteness and prettiness will decrease because the process is too complicated and strict. In addition, only those who have been educated on adoption-related matters from the adoption agency and passed the examination should be permitted to apply for adoption. This would help qualify that the person has basic knowledge regarding the animal and is not swayed by fast trends. Also, people with a record of animal cruelty should be blacklisted so they cannot adopt again. Additionally, pet shops should also be regulated since they ignore the essence of life towards animals. For example, Germany made pet shops illegal and instead advertises on adopting abandoned pets or babies from families who are raising the parent animals. If South Korea were to act on this implementation, it would definitely help in lessening the number of abandoned animals. Furthermore, the implementation of registering pets should also be strengthened, in terms of participation, so that people would register their pets and be afraid to abandon them. It would help in managing animals that are abandoned and finding the owner.

A Campaign to Stop Puppy Farming (pbs.twimg.com)

A Campaign in Improving Social Awareness

Spreading the abandoned animal adoption campaign to inform about the cruelty that naturally occurs in breeding grounds, auction houses, and pet shops, especially in regard to improving awareness of indiscreet breeding is important. South Korea is not very aware of the law or the importance of restraining illegal reproduction, which is why there are dogs trapped in breeding grounds and forced to continue breeding pups in harsh environments. The abuse of giving excessive births should be severely punished, but it is not properly observed. As an overseas case in England, there is a law called the Lucy Law. Lucy is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breed averagely weighing 5.9-8.2kg. Lucy was forced into breeding for six consecutive years, resulting in weight loss and major health issues. Lucy seemed to be stick and bones and, at one point, weighed only 3.6kg. Fortunately, people found out about her hideous state and started a campaign online. The campaign was about having to ban the sale of animals that are not directly bred in order to close the breeding grounds and pet shops. Finally, in February 2018, the United Kingdom (UK) government held a public survey about the closing of breeding grounds and pet shops. A total of 96.5% of people agreed to the survey and the law was amended. Following the example of the UK, it would be great if the Korean government also took strong measures regarding breeding grounds and pet shops.

It is morally and legally wrong to abandon a pet, who was once considered as one of the family. Pets are not just accessories to decorate your life with. They are also precious lives and must be taken care of. Those who have abandoned their pets must be severely punished and restricted from adopting another pet.

최진영  rosaleen21c@gmail.com

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