Aperson died due to a bacterial disease after she had been bitten by the dog of a celebrity without a leash. As a result, controversy about the owner’s responsibility is becoming an issue. The Argus looked into some talking points and suggested realistic explanations and solutions.
Economic loss caused by abandoned pets
Abandoned animals bring about economic loss even to those who do not own pets. The estimated number of abandoned animals rescued from January to July in 2017 exceeds 50,000, according to a statistic website Pawinhand. It showed an increase of about 10 percent compared to the same period last year. That means 262 animals are abandoned by their owners each day.
However, the actual number would be much more if stray cats and other animals that had yet to be captured had been considered. The cost that is required to manage these animals, which is a part of our taxes, rises constantly.
Price bubble of pet-related services
Pet-related costs vary widely, so people who keep pets are especially burdened with excessive medical expenses. Besides the initial expenses for getting a pet and the fees of animal hospitals or pharmacies, pet funerals, cosmetic expenses for animals differ depending on the pet shop.
In other words, the prices of pet-related services are all depend on the service provider. According to a report released in January by the National Council of Consumer Education, the sale price of female Pomeranians is different more than four times. The price of preventive injections against rabies is even different about eight times.
“In the case of old dogs, the animal hospital recommends additional special examinations, so I cannot estimate the appropriate cost. I just assume that the vet and hospital set reasonable prices,” said a dog owner Lee Yu-jin.
Some argue that particular people who have the financial capability are responsible for taking care of pets. However, unreasonable expenses drive the middle-class owners to give up their pets increase in abandoned animals.
Pet-driven conflicts among people
The larger the number of pet lovers, the more frequent conflicts between pet owners and non-pet owners occur. In Korea, the majority of the population lives in apartments where one household can disturb several neighbors simultaneously. House owners worry their pet might damage the wall and furniture or cause conflict with other residents.
Lee Ye-lim who lives near HUFS supply of Global Campus said, “Many house owners and realty dealers refuse to accept pets. Moreover, there are enough student tenants to contract with, so it is not easy to live with a pet.”
On the other hand, stray cats bring about serious fights between so-called cat moms or cat dads and ordinary residents. Cat mom refers to a person who provide food to stray cats.
Lee Jeonge-ui, who had suffered from both cats and cat moms said, “I have been living in a university town for three years, and I have seen people feeding stray cats. I wonder if they know how many people suffer from the stray cats.”
Ineffective pet registration system
The pet abandonment issue has been thought to be the result of a personal matter so far. Since the media mainly has covered people who abandon their pets for personal reasons; pet owners give up raising their pets when they became so big, old, or sick that pet owners cannot afford them anymore, or they desert their pets on a whim. However, the lack of proper management from the government, including the local one failed to prevent abandoning.
Pet registration system was implemented in January, 2014, and all pet owners should register their own pets over-three-months-old at district office. According to the research from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA), however, it turns out only 979,000 pets were reported among 1,778,747 pets on the list.
There are penalties when pet owners fall short with the law by not putting their pets on the list. According to Article 47 of the Animal Protection Act, for pet owners who do not abide by law, they will receive a warning the first time, and they will be fined 200,000 won (US$180.51), 400,000 won (US$361.01) the second and third times, respectively. Despite all these protocols, only a few people are aware of this pet registration system and there is no further management from the government, which makes people think the pet registration system is a must.
“I have been raising a Shih Tsu for eight years, but never felt the need of registering it. To be honest, I do not think the government would find out whether I listed my dog or not,” said Lee Seung-ryung, a 20-year-old dog owner.
Unintended consequences of the former policy
People spend enormous amount of money on healthcare services for their pets. The reason for this is that there exists no uniform standard for the pet healthcare service, which means veterinarians can set the pricing for their service as they please.
After the law which regulates the upper limit on prices for pet healthcare services was abolished in 1999, pet hospital expenses started to become unpredictable. The purpose was to broaden consumer’s choice in the hopes of pet hospitals competing for better services in a free market, but it brought bad outcomes for consumers.
In addition, the Amendment of the Enforcement Decree of the Veterinary Services, which was announced in July, 2017 due to the protest of behaviorists, made it impossible for pet owners to negotiate the price of veterinary service. The behaviorists proclaimed that the practice of non-veterinarians should be banned as it is dangerous for the animals, but the change in laws did not consider the odds that pet owners would suffer.
The MAFRA has completed the manual of self-medical treatment on pets in order to patch things up, but still, there are no specified guidelines on exactly how much pet caregivers can do for their pets.
Municipalities failing to reach a consensus
Local governments that work for the convenience and welfare of the residents are not able to mediate conflicts that arise from pets.
In October, 2016, there was a conflict between the residents in Gangnam District, Seoul, due to pets. Not only the resident committee, but also city officials, and an animal welfare organization intervened, but it was unsuccessful. In order to narrow the gap between the two parties, the first thing the city officials came up with was to have a muzzle, which is specially made to prevent the dog from barking, on the dog’s mouth. However, it failed as the pet owner insisted that his dog was not loud enough to have a muzzle, nor the operation on its vocal cords. Even after the animal welfare organization failed to solve the conflict, the residents who were affected said they were going to sue the pet owner if he did not move out.
Including the case above, there were four cases in which the Seoul Metropolitan Government has been involved in mediating pet-related conflicts since July in 2016. The most well-known conflicts were between a person who gave meals to 10 cats and residents of Yongsan District, between neighbors and a house that raise 100 cats in Geumcheon District, and a student who suffered from neighbor’s dog that did not stop barking. None of the cases were solved in a peaceful way.
“Mutual understanding is very important to solve the problems in advance. It is the role of the municipality to give practical help when there is a conflict that individuals could not deal with,” said an official working at an animal shelter in the city of Yongin.
The incidents that occurred between people were usually too large for them to handle, but municipalities failed to mediate in any of those cases.
Viable alternatives to promote the pet registration
The current pet registration system needs to change because many people still are unfamiliar with it and its effectiveness is weak. As it is against the law for pet owners not to register their pets, which incurs the fair amount of penalty fees, it is imperative that the government let as many as people know what the pet registration system is.
Notices should be included in the information a pet shop and pet hospital provide to pet caregiver. In order to implement the policy effectively, a manual should be given to those who are going to raise a pet.
It is also necessary to provide incentives through the pet registration system. Pet owners often feel at loss when they register their pets because fees are required in both the registration and the death of their pets. Apart from allowing pet owners to use playgrounds for pets, discounts on medical expenses and on pet products will greatly contribute to the activeness of the pet registration system.
Another option is to get a license, which is a upgraded version of just registering pets. The reason to introduce a licensing system is to have a pet permanently identified, and allow pet owners who register their pets to have benefits through this card. The city of Yongin, Gyeonggi Province introduced this licensing system on Dec. 1. “If all pets are in a reach of a pet registration system, a positive effect is anticipated. We all hope this licensing system helps to make society better to live for both humans and pets,” said a person who is concerned working at an animal shelter in the city of Yongin.
Standardization of medical expenses for pets
All presidential candidates pointed out the issue of veterinary costs during the 19th presidential election, which caught the 10 million pet owners’ attention.
In order to make the price of medical services transparent, it is necessary to find out what kind of medical practices are done on animals, just like they are on people. In the case of humans, the cost of medical care is based on how many times the doctor puts the stethoscope on body, and what kind of medical equipment is used. If the number of treatments performed by pets is clear enough to get rid of the price bubble, then the trust between pet caregiver and pet hospital will be recovered.
Mandatory education on pet ethics for pet owners
As the number of people who raise pets has increased, social conflicts among neighbors instigated by pets are also on rise. However, this kind of situation happens because of caregivers who are not adequately educated about raising pets. But those who feel they need to get some information about pet raising find it hard to have an opportunity because of the high cost and lack of specialized training centers. The government and municipalities are therefore obliged to expand the chances for pet owners to learn how to train their pets and to support people who need counseling related to their pets.
Above all, preventing conflicts from happening in advance is the best solution. It is also important for pet owners to abide by the laws. According to Article 13 (2) of the Animal Protection Act, dogs should be on a leash when outside. To protect their beloved dogs before being criticized by those who dislike them, they are responsible for their knowledge of laws.
“The pet owners should know how to adequately train their dogs as well as make sure that their pet is happy and healthy. Caring about their neighbors should be put on priority,” said Park Jin-hwan, the representative of People’s Coalition for Animal Welfare Korea (PCAWK).
As the number of people raising pets is increasing, it is time to revise the Animal Protection Act and to improve the social awareness about pets in order to make a society where humans and animals can coexist. Time has come to narrow the gap of recognition between people and pets.
By Moon Chae-un, You Seo-yeon
Staff Reporters of National Section