An abused animal must be returned to the owner who abused it, according to the animal protection laws of South Korea.
Of the two recent animal abuse cases in South Korea, in the first, the animal was badly abused by the owner, yet it must be returned after medical treatment is completed. The second case resulted in the animal being returned to the abusive owner within hours of the abuse.
One can easily agree that these wholly inadequate animal protection laws must be changed.
Case 1: Hunting Dogs Intentionally Starved
In a district of Gwangju City, Gyeonggi Province, we were informed of emaciated dogs that were being used for boar-hunting. Not only were they merely skin and bones, but they had multiple scars on their bodies, and their stool was bloody. Their owner admitted to starving them on purpose for about 10 days prior to hunting. This was clear animal abuse.
Two of the heavily-injured dogs were taken to the vet, but the municipality stated that they were to be returned to their owner after their medical treatment.
Outraged by the municipality’s decision, animal lovers started spreading the news via social media.
Upon hearing the news, our activists found a place with a black dog caged on the back of a vehicle, and more dogs in the backyard. Though we couldn’t see the dogs from the social media posts, it turned out to be the abuser’s residence. The owner started shouting at us aggressively, so a closer investigation was difficult. From afar, the dogs at the scene didn’t appear to be in critical condition.
We contacted the municipality to discover the condition of the two dogs that had been taken to the vet. According to their statement, the owner had forfeited his ownership of one of the dogs that had multiple tumors, but the other one would have to be returned to the owner after treatment.
Additionally, the municipality adjudicated that this was not a “severe” form of animal abuse and instead turned the blame on the informant who allegedly reported that it was “not a serious case.” Yet, there was no evidence that the informant had actually made such a statement.
Despite the visible signs of suffering, and the fact that the owner had admitted to intentionally starving his dogs for over a week, the municipality was trying to evade responsibility. Even the veterinary hospital associated with the municipality must follow their directions and return the one dog to the owner.
According to current South Korean law, the animal must indeed return to the abusive owner if it is the owner who pays for its medical treatment. What we can count on, however, is that during the treatment, some owners decide to forfeit their pets if they’re overwhelmed by the medical expenses or if they are successfully persuaded to give up their ownership.
The length of the dog’s stay at the hospital is up to the vet’s judgment. We are currently trying to convince the vet to give the dog enough time to fully heal and receive all the necessary treatment at the hospital.
Case 2: Drunk Owner Throws Dogs from Second Floor
This incident involved puppies of around 3-4 months old being thrown from a second floor dwelling in Chuncheon City, resulting in one dying on the spot, and the other being left in critical condition. The owner’s justification? Because the puppies were not being potty-trained like he would have liked.
Chuncheon City Animal Shelter, which is under the direct management of the city, said that they were not responsible for providing medical care for the injured puppy, nor for giving protection to the abused animal.
When the owner’s daughter, who claimed to be living in a separate residence, came by to pick up the puppy, the municipality did not verify whether she was indeed living separately and just gave her the injured puppy. The municipality did not check to see if the puppy was returned to the abuser nor whether it was still alive.
Inadequate Animal Protection Laws
South Korea’s inadequate animal protection laws must be improved, but to make matters worse, even the existing ones are neither being honored nor enforced by the very people in the government that are tasked to do so.
We cannot allow another animal to return to the hands of its abuser. For decades, we have fought for the forfeiture of pet ownership from abusive owners, and for the strengthening of these inadequate animal protection laws, but our demands have been repeatedly rejected.
One of the major hindrances is that animals are considered personal possessions, not lives that must be protected. Consequently, countless animal activists who rescue abused animals have been, and continue to be, prosecuted for theft.
Until when must we put up with this irrational contradiction in the animal protection laws of South Korea?
We will pursue these two animal abuse cases until they are resolved justly. We will make sure that the municipal officer of Chuncheon City is charged with dereliction of duty, and that the dog owner in Gwangju City is charged with animal abuse.