It’s no longer Pet, it’s a Companion animal

기사승인 2021.09.14  17:41:40



 Recently, restaurants and cafes that have been opened with a welcome for companion animals, and companies that encourage accompanying commuting, show that companion animals are located near the lives of many people. As a result, the system’s realization of the change of the social position of animals and the willingness to solve the problems that follow have also becoming apparent. Let's look at the unabated abandonment of companion animals and the revised animal protection laws and examples that give them good influence.


Abandonment of animal

 A companion animal is an animal that a person keeps at home and depends on emotionally. In the past, home animals used to be called pets in the sense of being loved and entertained by people. However, as the idea that a pet is not a toy but a companion living with a person has spread, the animals are being called companion animals.

 Despite the gradual improvement in the perception of these companions, the reality is not following this idea. There are still frequent pet abandonment cases in our society. Abandonment of companion animals, obviously means that animals have been abandoned by their owners. According to a 2016-2020 ‘Animal Freedom Solidarity’ report, an average of about 203 animals has been abandoned or lost per day over the past five years. Also, according to the 2021 ‘Animal Freedom Solidarity’, the number of abandoned and lost companion animals in Korea has exceeded 100,000 each year since 2017, and 55 percent of abandoned pets are immature animals under a year old.

 There are three main reasons that the abandonment of companion animals is not decreaseing in Korea. The first is that tadoption of pets is as easy as buying a toy at a shop. As there are no procedures for adoption, and the legal responsibility after adoption is not great, a companion animal can be bought and sold like objects.

 This may lead to the artificial breeding of particular breeds of dogs or cats in factories. A breed means a group that has different looks, such as fur and body size, and there are currently about 400 kinds of dogs and about 40 kinds of cats worldwide. If a particular breed appears in the media or wins a beauty and sports competition that year, demand increases, which causes suppliers to reproduce and sell artificially, and if a new breed is in the spotlight again, the previously popular breed will be abandoned. In other words, there is a problem in that the preference for a particular breed, the trend of replacing animals like objects, or the adoption rate of a particular breed dogs, not mixed dogs, is low at abandoned animal shelters.

 Also, it is difficult to feel responsible for life due to the low possibility of detection and ease of abandonment. As a result, it is easy to buy an animal, so when a companion animal gets bigger than expected or gets a disease after a year, the vicious cycle of throwing it away is repeated.

 A second cause is that illegal sales are rampant to avoid legal networks and regulations. Current animal protection laws prohibit the sale of animals without reporting to the government and do not allow the trade of living creatures on used trading platforms. In addition, animal sales records online are mandatory for authorized companies as well as offline, and the information including registration numbers and addresses must be specified. However, more and more vendors are still selling animals from illegal breeding sites, impersonating home sales or shelters online.

 Third, adoption in the absence of appropriate education to inform owners that it is an act of caring and responsibility for life. When adopting a pet, it is often done without knowledge of what actions should be done to the companion animal and what actions should be avoided. This can lead to food poisoning or aggressive behavior such as barking or bowel movements of companion animals, which can lead to attacks on people. Because the process of training pets is difficult, there are cases where pets are simply given up and abandoned.

 According to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs in December 2020, 86.7% of the respondents said it is necessary to introduce compulsory education for pet owners, indicating the need for education on proper care and responsibility.


The Animal Protection Law

 The Animal Protection Law was enacted as more and more people wanted to solve the problems and designate pets as family members. Since then, it has been imporved through revision.

 The Animal Protection Law was enacted in 1991 to protect animal life and safety to contribute to the emotional development of people, specifically respect for life. As time passed after the animal protection law was enacted, more and more people accepted animals as pets that they live with, not as property, and animals that are abandoned and shunned also increased. As a result, the Animal Protection Law was revised twice, in January 2007 and May 2010 due to the growing interest in companion animals that are not properly cared for or suffer from physical and mental abuse.

 The coexistence between humans and animals, that is, matters necessary for proper protection and management of animals, such as prevention of abuse of animals were addressed. Through this, local governments tried to implement measures for the protection and management of animals in their jurisdictions and to induce efforts to actively cooperate with the people in these matters.

 According to a recent survey conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs in December 2020, about 6.38 million households have pets in Korea, 27.7% of all households have pets, which shows that many people are living with them. According to the National Assembly member Lee Eun-Joo's office, the number of violations of the animal protection law has increased from 69 in 2010 to 914 in 2019, but only 304 were sentenced to prison. The Animal Protection Law will be revised in 2021 as there are still cases where pets are not provided an appropriate environment, where abuse, or abandonment, and violations of the Animal Protection Law are rapidly increasing.

Revised Animal Protection Law

 In 2020, during the 21st National Assembly, 22 amendments to the Animal Protection Law were proposed, eight of which were passed at the plenary session. These amendments to the Animal Protection Act took effect on February 12 in 2021. There are three major changes to the revised Animal Protection Law, also called the Pet Abandonment Punishment Law.

 First, abandonment of a companion animal has been changed to warrant criminal punishment rather than a fine. Before the revision of the Animal Protection Law, the punishment regulation, which imposed a fine of less than 1 million won for the first-time abandonment of companion animals, will be replaced with a fine for criminal disposition of less than 3 million won.

 Moreover, the police, not local government officials, will investigate the abandonment crime in cooperation, and it may remain as a criminal record after trial. This reflects criticism that even if local government officials were under the jurisdiction of local governments such as the district office, it was difficult to deal with abandoned companion animals because these officials had no right to investigate these crimes, and even if the people who abandoned companion animals were caught,  there was no effective way to prevent companion animal abandonment.

 Second, the vendor must register companion animals in the name of the buyer. It can be seen that the companion animal registration obligation system, which is a system to register basic information of the companion animal owners' names and addresses with local governments, is strengthened. Before the revision, animal registration was the duty of guardians, but the rate of companion animal registration was low, causing problems of an ineffective the system.

 To resolve this, the vendor is required to register animals in the name of the buyer after the revision. It reflects the criticism that the actual number of pets will be known only when the recognition that animal registration is mandatory, and procedures should improve.

 Also, matching the time of the animal registration is possible with the most active animal distribution. It reflects the opinion that the registration rate of people who adopt two-month old animals will fall since they are 3 months old and can be registered before revision. Although it does not regulate the animal trade industry itself, namely pet shops, this is an improvement of the system of protection of lost animals and a setting of a limit on animal sales and purchasing activities by creating a responsible process.

 Third, if abuse of acompanion animal abuse leads to its death, a prison term will be brought to bear. The Animal Protection Law will raised the pre-revision punishment  from imprisonment of up to 2 years or fines of up to 20 million won for abuse of animals, to imprisonment of up to 3 years or fines of up to 30 million won.

 This is because citizens' voices calling for stronger punishment for animal abusers have been raised as several shocking cases of animal abuse have been reported. However, in 2020, ‘Animal Freedom Solidarity’ pointed out that instead of increasing the rules on cruelty, it should establish a comprehensive punishment clause that can prohibit abuse in principle based on animal rights, preventing new forms of abuse from avoiding the law.

 On July 19, 2021, the Ministry of Justice announced a bill to revise the civil law, which established a new clause, "Animal is not an object," at the Gwacheon Government Complex. It reflects the opinion that various problems arise in punishment of abuse and responsibility for medical problems because companion animals are classified as objects under civil law.

 There is a problem that the legal status of a companion animal is an object; it cannot be protected as a companion animal because the perpetrator will be punished for property damage, not for violating the Animal Protection Law. A case in point of controversy was that on May 9, 2021, the perpetrator ran away and killed the dog after hitting it with a car, but under the current law, the animal is an object and is recognized as property destruction, not an animal protection law.

 The perpetrator claimed that the crime of destruction of property was not intentional because punishment is impossible without intention, and as a result, the police charged the perpetrator with hit-and-run charges and booked him without detention. The intensity of the punishment in the case infuriated the people who live with their companion animals. "As the number of households raising companion animal has increased, there has been a consensus that animals should be protected and respected," said Justice Minister Chung Jae-min. "In a 2018 poll, 9 out of 10 people said animals and objects should be separated under civil law." "If the law is revised, the level of compensation for animal abuse and animal damage will be changed to be more consistent with the public's perception, and various creative systems for animal protection and respect for life will be proposed," Chung Jae-min said.

Domestic Cases on the Protection of Pets

 Korea has recently been striving to improve the rights and perception of companion animals through activities in various fields as well as by revising laws.


 The first cat adoption center opened in Gyeonggi Province to protect rescued cats in a hygienic environment and have a systematic adoption system. The cat adoption center aims to create a medical system for abandoned cats, such as medical examinations and neuter surgery, and to meet sufficiently qualified families. According to the Gyeonggi Provincial Government, the cat adoption center will provide hygiene management and education to adoptive families and consult with them for six months after adoption.

 Lee Jae-Myung, a poet of Gyeonggi Province, said, "We need to respect the lives of animals so that we can respect human life." and "We have created a cat adoption center that considers the ecology of cats, setting an example of a protective adoption system for a companion animal to settle smoothly in civil society." "We can't protect all the abandoned animals in the world, but we have to take the initiative to create a planet where animals and humans live together," he added.

 The local government's operation of this kind of protection facilities is also meaningful in supporting and encouraging responsiblity for the social suffering and costs of animals and those who want to protect them in the public domain. Citizens' demand for public inspection and the sharing of responsibility has grown so that abandoned animals no longer experience trauma. In addition to direct activities, there are cases of good influence with fans through social network services.


 As a representative example, group BLACKPINK member Rose appeared on a program called JTBC's ‘Knowing Brothers’ in March 2021 and revealed the adoption process of Hank, her companion animal, saying, "I saw an abandoned dog on SNS and it was so pretty." Rosé also opened a social media site exclusively for Hank in December 2020, introducing Hank as a Special Breed and Has a very happy tail. In this way she is spreading a positive perception of mixed dogs, not just abandoned animals and purebreds.

 Rose's fan club decided to donate a companion animal hospitalization center (six rooms) at Seongsan-Myeon, Gangneung to celebrate Rose's birthday on February 11, 2021. Jang Hyuk, head of companion animal hospitalization center at Seongsan-Myeon, said, "I hope this event will raise interest in adoption of abandoned animals."

Overseas Cases of Efforts for Animals

 Animal rights experts say that eliminating the pet trade is a global trend. A case in point is the Factory Breeding Prohibition Law, also called the Lucy Law, which was implemented in the UK in 2020. This means that dogs or cats under 6 months old cannot be sold at pet shops or online, only directly adopted or adopted by government-managed breeders or animal shelters. Lucy's method is named after a dog named Lucy.

 In 2013, Lucy, who was used as a so-called dog factory breeder and was rescued from repeated litters, was presented on SNS to bring attention tobthe factory breeding situation along with Lucy's photo, and many people sympathized with it and a bill was passed.


 Not only legal institutions but also the media have informed people of abandoned animals. Disney's new movie Cruela, released in May 2021, features a dog named "Buddy," which the main character Cruela loves the most. The dog who plays Buddy is Bobby, an abandoned dog found on a street in London months before the filming of the movie. At the time of discovery on the street, Bobby was seriously underweight and was extremely anxious which indicated that he had been abused.

 The British dog shelter brought in Bobby and the leader of the dog shelter recommended him to an animal actor trainer to play Cruela's "Buddy." Julie Tottman, an acting animal trainer who trained Bobby, told the British Mirror, "Bobby was the most comfortable dog I've ever worked with, and he showed a natural talent for acting." "The world often shames abandoned dogs, but in my experience with rescue animals, they are harder-working, more loyal, and loving animals than anyone else."

 The production team brought Bobby to the film and found a family to spend the rest of his life with. Perhaps that's why Cruela's ending credits included words that read, "Every dog in the world deserves to be loved" and "If you're ready to be with him for the rest of your life, meet an animal friend who's perfect for you at a nearby abandoned animal shelter."

 Donna Harroway, the author of the book "Manifestly Haraway" which highlights the relationships among the beings living on Earth, said, "Let's re-recognize the boundaries between humans and animals that seemed solid by seeing the two species evolve together." For humans, animals are not only part of the ecosystem, but they must be deeply located in life and coexist together, which will remain unchanged. I think asking and acting on animals that are part of our lives will slowly bring about a good change in our lives, if not immediately.


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