Life's a lottery for Korea's dogs

Life's a lottery for Korea's dogs
They are fed, groomed and catered to at a degree many less fortunate humans would envy.

It is the epitome of polarisation to live as a dog in Korea.

For more fortunate canines life is sweet. They are fed, groomed and catered to at a degree many less fortunate humans would envy.

Dog hotels and a variety of beauty services from hair salons to nail shops are flourishing here. Some pooches are considered to be more than companions, becoming partners in fighting crime and assistants to the blind.

Dogs today even have their own TV programs. Smart gadgets are designed to monitor their health or to automatically vacuum dog hair around the house.

With the growing number of single-person households, whether they be widowed seniors or lifetime bachelors, dogs have become faithful companions, often without the hassle that comes with engaging other humans.

The market size of the pet business is expected to grow to 6 trillion won (S$7.3 billion) by 2020, according to research by the Nonghyup Economic Research Institute. About one in five households currently owns a dog or cat, local reports say.

But not all dogs have it so good. Many are abused, abandoned and even butchered.

The commercial popularity of dogs has bloated the number of those being bred, creating an image of dogs as disposable pets. More than 80,000 dogs are abandoned each year, particularly in summer. As their owners jet off on summer vacations, their pets are left to die or sequestered at overcrowded shelters. The government also spends more than 10 billion won a year to help abandoned animals find new homes and administer euthanasia for those failing to find one.

Even on a less heavy note, clashes continue between those who cherish dogs as they would their own children and those who stigmatise them as being inferior creatures that can be sacrificed on a whim.

The relatively young culture of cohabiting with dogs has yet to be followed with cultural guidelines on how to behave with them in public or how to accept them as part of the community.

A fierce debate also persists over Korea's infamous dog-eating culture. Despite dog eating being a centuries-old custom, the diametric views of the animals as life companions and edible livestock doesn't appear to be an issue likely to be settled in the near future.

Nonetheless, dogs in Korea have come a long way since haggard hounds were tied up to a pole in the rugged front yard of a house.

It is frowned upon if a dog is neglected or abused, something that most would have nonchalantly ignored just decades ago.

The government is also jumping on the bandwagon to establish a more systematic management of the country's growing canine population.

Since mid-2014, it has required owners to register their pets with local governments and the agricultural ministry.

The mandatory rule was designed to curb the number of abandoned pets and reduce the cost of rescuing and finding new homes for them. If someone fails to register their pets, the government could impose a fine of up to 400,000 won.

In nearly a year since the measure was enacted, nearly 890,000 companion dogs or pets were registered with the Agriculture Ministry. Officials say there are millions more still unregistered.

It may take a while to account for all the dogs kept in Korea, but the efforts are better late than never.

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