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[HanCinema's Interview Corner] Ten Questions for the ANIMAL LOVER


How would you describe Korean culture and its relationship to animals, particularly pets? Would you say that Korea is an Animal friendly place?

In my opinion, traditionally Koreans see animals on a much lower rank than that of humans. Animals have a function to be either eaten as food or to be used to aid in some way. Most large dogs are kept as guard dogs or/and are traditionally eaten for health to help cool down one's body during the hottest days of summer. Nowadays things have changed only a little. Dogs and, on rarer occasions, cats are kept as pets. It seems that the smaller the pet, the cuter it is. Dogs are still used as guard dogs for factories and homes. These are not considered 'pets' as they are not socialized with and given the bare minimum of food, water and shelter. Cats are mostly street cats and are often killed with poison or picked up by animal control vehicles and put down.  Although many Koreans' attitudes are changing towards animals, it is not an animal friendly place whatsoever. Pets are often thrown away if there is an inconvenience with them at all. When a wife becomes pregnant, out goes the dog. There is a fear that the animal hair will cause problems for the newborn baby. If an animal is sick, often they are also leave it on the street to fend for itself because the cost of veterinary care is thought to be too expensive. Few people spay or neuter their pets.

In your experience, what are some of the big issues facing animal rights in Korea?

Some of the biggest issues facing animal rights are that the laws are vague, not upheld and not given too much importance. If animals are abused or neglected, they are not taken from the owner. The owner has the right to keep the animal despite abusing it. To take an abused animal away from its owner, it must be bought. Shelters have no support from government and rely solely on donations. There are not enough shelters in Korea. Animals that are found on the street or taken in to the pound have ten days before being put down. Few pets are neutered or spayed and so there is so much offspring to have to be sheltered or suffer on the streets.

Many Koreans and foreigners, as well as international animal rights groups, are trying to get dog off the menu. Dog soup is extremely popular in August and it's believed to have health benefits and to cool the blood. Eating dog here is legal, but the government has implemented laws so that dogs are no longer tortured to death. It was believed that a slow and painful death would cause a surge of adrenaline in the dog and tenderize the meat. This is no longer legal but it's also not monitored. Many dogs still suffer torturous deaths. Not to mention the conditions of dog farms. Laws have been created to have better and more humane conditions for these dogs, but few dog farms abide by these laws. Many farms have been investigated by animal rights groups and have shown to be pure hell for dogs. Dogs are not given water or fed and often die of disease or starvation. Animal rights are trying to make it illegal to eat dog, and it has been a huge challenge.

Do you own any pets in Korea? And what are your thoughts about foreigners living in Korea owning pets?

I do own a dog. She was a lost or abandoned puppy that I found on the street. I have had her now for 6 years. I think there are quite a few foreigners who have pets and are mostly committed to keeping them and bringing them back home to their native countries. Some people will take pets and will pass them off to other foreigners who will take them once they have to leave the country. This bothers me. My belief is that if you get a pet, it should be a commitment until the pet passes, not just a convenience to not feel lonely. I do know that many people take in lost or abandoned pets even when they can't commit to them, just to help the animal the best that they can. I do understand this. Foreigners with pets should be warned that many Koreans don't like dogs or cats. Pet owners might have problems with neighbors complaining about barking.

What advice would you offer to foreigners interested in buying/adopting a pet in Korea? What should they consider and what are the risks?

I think foreigners should definitely adopt pets in Korea. Most animal shelters have their animals' shots up to date, and are overcrowded. I recommend adoption from a shelter every time before buying from a pet store. Animals in pet stores are sickly, and often come from breeding farms that are in terrible conditions. I would support the shelters any day before buying from these stores. Vets are expensive and so is pet food. I recommend really taking the time to think if having a pet is something one can commit to financially, time-wise and long term. There is another option and that is to foster pets. Many shelters are looking for people to foster dogs or cats. This is a great way to know if you are ready to have a pet long term. Also, it is a way to help the animals and shelters in Korea.

Have you ever encountered a situation where an animal in Korea was being mistreated? What happen and how did you respond?

Too many times! I have witnessed a dog being kicked by its owner. I reacted by running over and screaming that the owner to stop. She did stop and wasn't sure how to respond to me. I walk past factories on my way to work, so I had to think of a way to get the abuse to stop. I decided that creating a hostile relationship would only cause more abuse to the dog. So the next day I went there with a bag of treats for the dog. I smiled and greeted the very owner I yelled at the day before and gave her the treats. I petted the dog and left. I continued this for weeks. I complained that the dog was tied to tightly and couldn't move. The owner remedied that a couple of times as well. When the dog was left in the sun, I tried to shade it and told the owner that the dog was hot. Soon I was asked to come in to their factory. They had a bunch of puppies...and proudly showed me. I visited often and brought food. This big dog that was getting abused is now fed well (too much so actually) and in the winter is kept in the factory by a heater. It seems that he is much better treated. Perhaps it had a bit to do with me. There have been other occasions. Animals not fed enough, or with no adequate shelter. I have brought food for dogs and built shelters, and helped to get these animals in better conditions. It has been successful every time.

Is owning and raising a pet in Korea expensive? How easy it to take care of a pet and is there anything people should know about pet health care in Korea?

Owning and raising a pet is more expensive than it is in Canada. But not so much that someone can't afford it. Pet food is costly depending on the brand but annual shots are not. Medicine and vet bills are quite costly but not to the point that one cannot afford to have a pet. I think taking care of a pet can be quite easy if one does research. Having a big dog is not easy if you live in a small studio, which a lot of teachers do. There are services such as dog walkers and kennels in the larger cities. Animals should be neutered or spayed and should have a microchip inserted in case of being lost. A pet lost on the streets of Korea is a very scary thing. If the animal has no ID, it could be euthanized in the pound within 10 days. Also street dogs are abused by passer-bys quite a lot. Educate yourself on how to care for a pet. Make sure you have the appropriate time needed for your pet.

Does Korea favour a particular type of pet? How would you describe the manner in which Korean's treat particular animals in a domestic setting?

Koreans favor little animals. They love puppies and kittens and all cute baby animals. Once they get bigger, they aren't as appealing to many, and that is when a lot of animals are thrown to the streets. I think little dogs are the favorite pet here in Korea. There are some great animal owners here. Little dogs are kept in apartments, often dressed up, and groomed consistently. Most Korean owners don't sleep with their pets but do show a great amount of love for them.

In the past few months there were reports of dogs being dragged till their death by cars. In another innocent, a man beat his neighbor's dog to death because it wouldn't stop barking. What is your personal reaction when you come across these kinds of stories and how common are they really?

Anger and tears. I can't even get my head around the idea of how someone would want to drag their dog to its death. It angers me that no charges have been made when the police have video footage, witnesses and even the license of the car to identify the owner. This will continue to happen because the law is not enforced. Myself, other foreigners and many Koreans are up in arms over this. Animal rights groups have put out petitions and protests and still nothing has happened. It kills me to think that people got away with this sick and horrible crime. My heart goes out to the animals that suffered such an awful death. I pray and hope that Koreans continue to be outraged and change what is happening.

It is my understanding that animals in Korea don't actually have rights. They are considered property and are dealt with accordingly. What are your thoughts on this and how does Korea's view on animals differ from your home country?

Yep, that is true. However that government has made some changes to the laws to better living conditions on farms... And then... I am reminded that the government refused to vaccinate pigs from foot and mouth disease and when the pigs became infected, millions were buried alive. So I don't have too much trust, if any, in the government protecting animals. I believe it is up to the Korean public to get active and protest and write to their government and demand changes. People need to stop being silent and speak out when they see abuse and continue to publicize what happens here. Koreans need to support animal shelters with donations. There needs to be a publicity campaign on neutering and spaying animals as well as treating them more humanely. Many Koreans protested about a dog-meat event that promoted eating dog meat and dog meat products as well as medicine made out of dog parts and items made of dog fur. This event was cancelled two years in a row...due to protests by the locals. Being active and signing petitions and joining protests does help. Also reporting abuse works as well. I reported to an animal rights group about some dogs. They called the owners and things have changed. The dogs are fed and given water consistently and kept in much better conditions. One can also give a thirsty stray animal water or food...people are scared to help or commit to do something. But doing something little, makes a huge difference. In my country animals have rights. If an animal is abused or neglected, it is confiscated from the owner and the owner could be charged with abuse and pay a fine or do jail time.

How would you suggest someone who is interested in lending a helping hand to animals in Korea get involved? Are there any websites or organizations people can visit and get involved?

There are many ways to help animals in Korea. There are so many shelters and adoption sites online. Animal Rescue Korea or ARK is a site that posts animals that need fostering or adoption. Their website is There are different animal right protection groups such as KARA- and CARE- . There are Shelters such as BAPS- On these websites there are addresses and lists of shelters where one can visit, volunteer and adopt or foster animals. I also suggest that if you see abuse to report it to KARA or CARE or even local police. If you see an animal that is suffering, help out by giving it water or food or shade if needed. Doghouses are not expensive ($60) and it can change a dog's life. Be friendly to the owners and bring treats for the dog or offer to give the dog a walk. If they see how you treat the dog, they may want to do better. Every small thing you do will make a massive difference to that sweet animal you are helping.

Name: Alison Johncox-Oriko

Age: 39

Occupation in Korea: ESL Teacher

City in Korea:  Yoekgok, Bucheon

Home Town: Ottawa, Canada

Time spent in Korea: 10 years

Best thing about living in South Korea: Meeting my husband, Korean food, chaos

Least favorite thing about living in South Korea: little access to nature especially beaches, chaos:)


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