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Dog ownership a clash of culturesTraditional communal nature of dog ownership stills holds sway on island
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승인 2010.11.13  13:22:32
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▲ Kang Yoon Ho, president of the Sin Jeju Animal Hospital. Photo by Darryl Coote

When it comes to cultural differences between the citizens of Jeju and the island’s foreigner population, none may cause more strife than the treatment of animals, particularly that of dogs.

As previously reported in the April 19 issue of the Jeju Weekly, it is not completely uncommon for foreigners to take matters into their own hands and find, or provide, a home for a dog they either have removed from what they felt was an abusive situation or believed was a stray. Kang Yoon Ho, President of the Sin Jeju Animal Hospital, finds this behavior “admirable,” but says there are cultural and historical aspects that need to be taken into consideration.

“It has only been 15 to 20 years that we have had the idea of exclusive pet ownership,” Kang said, explaining that traditionally, dogs were cared for in a communal fashion, particularly on Jeju since gates and doors were typically left unlocked. “One day they’d sleep here, another they’d sleep there. People didn’t really care, because they didn’t feel that they had exclusive ownership … You didn’t say this is their dog, this is my dog. Koreans didn’t really feel that way until the early 90s.”

The growth of pet ownership in Korea is closely linked to the country’s economic development and the country’s view of dogs began to change during the 1988 Olympics when a temporary ban on the sale of dog meat for consumption was enforced.

It was only in 1991 when Korea’s Animal Protection Law was legislated, which groups dogs in the same category as livestock permitting them to be consumed.

   
▲ Photo by Alpha Newberry

Kang said that, since the Olympics dog restaurants have been on the decline, but not enough for the government to make an amendment to the law that would prohibit them. Kang believes that this lies at the heart of abuse against the animal. “For people to change their mindset it will take a complete banning of dog meat. Unless dog meat is banned people will continue to look down upon them,” he said.

According to Kang there is a polarization among Koreans on this issue, with those in urban centers adopting a more Western standpoint, while rural residents still viewing dogs from an agricultural perspective, useful for their meat or as a watch dog.

This is why it is common to see dogs in rural Jeju either in cramped conditions or tether by a short leash. “Objectively, that is animal abusive,” said Kang elaborating “The law applies to every dog equally but the law hasn’t been too effective given the cultural climate.”

Currently, the punishment for the maltreatment of animals, ranges between 100,000 won for the “Experimentation on abandoned animals,” to 5 million won for the “Act of killing by brutal methods, such as hanging,” states Korea’s Animal Protection Law.

Kang acknowledges that there is abuse on Jeju, but what a foreigner may view as a stray dog may not be the case. Since Jeju has a history of allowing dogs to meander unattended “Koreans think he is finding his way home or his owner is somewhere near, they don’t really care, but when a westerner spots a dog they immediately think the dog is a stray. That is a different concept of perception.” This is especially true, he believes in the case of small dogs. “They weren’t really thrown out or anything, they were just out by themselves.”

He continues that Jeju has modernized at a rate faster than the change in mindset of its people. The rapid development has increased the amount of dogs becoming strays due to the fact that dogs are no longer able to effectively mark their territories due to constant cleaning. As well, since more and more identical buildings are being constructed the dogs are becoming confused and when out doors by themselves they cannot accurately determine which dwelling is there’s.

According to Korea’s Animal Protection Law, “any animal [outside the home] without an identification tag,” is technically abandoned, which is a felony and the owner can be fined up to 500,000 won.

If an animal is found, Kang advises to take it to a local veterinary clinic or animal shelter where photos of the dog will be posted online. If an animal is believed to be abused, contact City Hall. Though currently “the provincial government or City Hall doesn’t really do anything about or take it seriously,” Kang said, they will have to take action if it becomes a much larger issue.



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