SEOUL, Feb. 20 (Korea Bizwire) – The South Korean government is under fire after introducing arbitrary standards for a new dog muzzle law focusing primarily on large dogs, a move that animal rights activists have described as ‘illogical’.
Under the animal law, which will enter effect next month, dogs must be kept on a leash shorter than 2 meters, while plans are underway to require dogs with previous experience of violent behavior, as well as all dogs taller than 40 centimeters when standing to wear muzzles.
The law forcing large dogs to be muzzled was proposed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs last month, after growing calls for stricter animal laws prompted by a series of fatal dog bites.
According to data from the Korea Consumer Agency, a total of 1,019 dog bite cases were reported in 2016 alone, having quadrupled from 245 cases in 2011.
The well-intentioned, yet controversial policy has been branded as ineffective, and faced accusations of demonizing large dogs from both animal rights groups and pet owners in South Korea since coming to light in January.
Amid mounting criticism, Minister of Agriculture Kim Young-rok spoke out earlier this week, promising to ease new dog safety measures.
“Though more people back the dog safety regulations, many dog owners say the law is too harsh, particularly the compulsory muzzling of dogs. We are looking at ways to complement the new safety laws,” Kim said during an interview with Yonhap News last week.
Kim says the muzzle requirement will be put in place in three years, separate from a set of new animal laws taking immediate effect next month, and plans will be underway to consult with experts to improve the measure.
Adding fuel to the fire is the 2-meter cap on the length of leashes as well as a so-called ‘dog paparazzi’ policy encouraging people to spot and report pet owners with their dogs at large to authorities.
In response to concerns, the minister pledged to ease the restrictions, saying, “I personally believe that restricting the length of a leash to 2 meters is excessive. We hope to implement the policy with flexibility. Even in public spaces, if there aren’t people around, dog owners should be able to lengthen their leash.”
On the dog paparazzi policy, Kim says the ministry will receive legal advice to ensure the policy is not abused to unfairly target people, particularly women who are more likely to be pet owners.
Animal Activists Say Mandatory Muzzle Is ‘Irrational’
Kim Min-ji, a 28-year-old dog owner in Seoul, says she feels more conscious nowadays of pedestrians when walking her Pomeranian in the park, after a series of high profile dog bite incidents, including the death of a woman who was bitten by a French bulldog owned by celebrity Choi Si-won.
However, she believes muzzles aren’t the way forward.
“Making dogs wear muzzles can make them more tense,” says Kim.
Earlier this month, the Korean Animal Welfare Association issued a statement in which the group branded the legislation forcing muzzles on dogs taller than 40 centimeters ‘unconstitutional’, after consulting scores of lawyers.
“To judge a dog’s violent behavior solely by its height is not only irrational, but it also means all dogs apart from small-sized ones will be subject to the law, which violates the principle of proportionality,” said the Korean Animal Welfare Association.
Pet ownership in South Korea has been growing rapidly in recent years, with nearly 10 million South Koreans owning pets as of 2015, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
Ashley Song (firstname.lastname@example.org)