SEOUL, Aug. 14 (Korea Bizwire) — Let’s try a thought experiment for a moment. Picture in your mind, an empty, crushed aluminum soda can. It’s slightly sticky around the edges and speckled with dirt. Got it? Now, picture in your mind a one month-old puppy. It’s fluffy, helpless and frightened. See the connection?
If you’re wondering how anyone might compare the two without being crazy, I would say that for certain portion of the Korean population, the connection between the two may be stronger than you or they realize.
ABANDONED DOGS ON THE RISE
Recently released statistics show a troubling trend. Official figures reveal that last year, 174 dogs were abandoned on average every day. This count is backed up by data released by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs showing the number of abandoned dogs has been increasing in the past few years. In 2014, a total of 59,180 abandoned animals were found. Two years later, the number increased to 63,602.
The rise in abandoned animals may simply be a cause of the rapid popularization of pet ownership. Without poring over reams of statistics, any Seoulite will confirm that the number of pet dogs in their neighborhood is growing. Furthermore, as the number of pet owners increaseㄴ, so too does the number of bad pet owners. So the spike in abandoned animals in 2016 compared to previous years may merely reflect the increase in pet ownership.
HOLIDAY SEASON PRIME TIME FOR PET ABANDONMENT
According to statistics released by the city of Chungju, when the summer holiday season officially started this year, the number of animals brought into the city’s animal shelter for abandoned animals was overwhelming. In fact, the number of animals was 18 percent higher than normal. Why are there more abandoned animals during the summer?
The director of the Animal Protection Center in Chungju believes that it’s because the animals are an impediment to their owners. “People abandon their animals and go on holiday based on the excuse that taking care of them throughout the holiday season is too difficult,” he said.
If the director’s position is correct (Chungju’s animal shelter is currently over capacity, with a cat that had recently given birth living in a bathroom due to the lack of space), then this raises a number of questions, including one very important one – why this is happening?
Are animals being abandoned because of the cost required to find someone to care for them while their owners are away? There has been an increase in “animal hotels”, which are exactly what they sound like. However, they are not known for being cheap, which may keep pet owners away. In addition, the hiring of pet sitters is still relatively new to Korea, and thus owners may refuse spend on such options.
But “too expensive” doesn’t seem to be a good explanation. In general, pets are not cheap. Buying, feeding, taking them to the vet all require time and money. If an owner has been raising a pet for some time, he or she would be aware of this. It seems unlikely the owner would balk at an expensive fee and decide to abandon the pet.
There is a possible answer to the why. The answer is that the adorable puppies are just objects of fleeting fancy and nothing more. This is hardly a groundbreaking observation, but perhaps this strikes ever closer to the heart of Korean consumerism than what appears on the surface.
Like the underground hallways lined with clothing shops and shoe stores that hawk seasonal, disposable clothing, like the ice cold bottles of beer and plastic containers filled with tantalizing delights that end up as litter on the beaches of Korea’s supposed “best” holiday destinations, so too are the puppies a seasonal delight that will be discarded onto the garbage heap.
When it looks good, keep it. When it doesn’t, get rid of it. That’s why the clothes are so cheap in the hundreds of stalls one passes on the way to hop on the subway. The value wears out quick.
Thinking of the trash that rests on the ground in many pockets of the city, and the toys, bottles, clothes, blankets, bones and other food remains that lie strewn about on beaches and parks after a hot summer day, one might question whether the tens of thousands of dogs being abandoned isn’t an aberration. Rather, it’s merely an extension of a carelessness in disposing of things that were once desired but are no longer.
To see a pet as an “animal” as opposed to a “family member” is one thing, but to dispose of it like one would a cigarette butt, by dropping it onto the street when no one is looking, that’s something else entirely. One can argue about the morality of treating life like an object, about social transformation so deep that a pet is no longer a “family member”, but what is truly damning is the portrait of a portion of society that gives the whole a bad name.A portion of society that does believe, whether it realizes it or not, that a puppy equals a crushed soda can.