The perfect place for puppy loversMARKET GUIDE : Where to purchase pets
Overheard at a pet accessory store: "I bought these adorable shoes for my puppy, but he refuses to wear them."
A few blocks away is a shop where dozens of dogs are getting stylistic trims from apron-clad women. Outside is a suit-clad woman who walks into a dog hospital a few shops down. On the sidewalk, students in uniform giggle and sigh as they adore the penned puppies in shop after shop. Add to that a few dozen more stores stocked with pedigree puppies and kittens, and you've got the pet market on Toegyero in downtown Seoul; a place offering all the sweet joys of a pet lover's heaven.
Pets are a multimillion dollar industry in Korea, and the players are serious. Korea is famous for dogs, but some would say for all the wrong reasons. While the international media likes to run stories about how canines are raised here for food, the pet culture here has been quietly flourishing.
The most famous pet market in Seoul is on Toegyero street between Euljiro 4-ga and Euljiro 5-ga. Other areas such as Apgujeong-dong have posh pet stores, but nowhere are there pet stores concentrated as heavily as they are at Toegyero. "If you can't find what you're looking for at Toegyero, chances are you won't find it," says one store owner.
The local pet market traces its roots to Myeong-dong in the late 1960s and the early 1970s. A store there named Aejowon sold a variety of pets, from birds to dogs. More stores opened nearby, but owners found the rents too high. So the pet stores started moving away from Myeong-dong towards Daehan Theater, where the rents were cheaper.
As the pet market boomed, peripheral businesses started coming in, such as pet salons, pet salon academies and pet motels. Now, in the words of one young window-shopper, "It's impossible to walk on Teogyero without stopping at every store."
The area has 35 pet stores, a handful of pet accessory stores, five animal hospitals, five pet salons ?one called Kim Mi-gyeong Hair Sense ?and a handful of pet salon academies. Oddly enough, scattered among the pet stores are a number of motorcycle shops.
Most of the animals sold at the pet stores these days are imported from China and Russia. The most popular breeds are small dogs with high maintenance coats. Some of the most popular breeds are the Yorkshire Terrier, an extroverted miniwatchdog with long, silky fur; the Shih Tzu, once favored in the royal Chinese courts; the Maltese, the pampered lapdogs of the ladies of ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome; and the English Cocker Spaniel. Toy poodles are also quite popular, but can be somewhat hard to find.
Kittens are also available at the market, but the majority of pets are dogs. You will be hard put to find other sorts of pets like hamsters or goldfish. Expect to spend 400,000 won ($300) and upward for a puppy.
If you do decide to buy a little, fuzzy bundle of joy that will make messes all over the floor, be sure to take it to the veterinarian for a checkup first. Pedigree or not, sometimes less-than-sanitary conditions and long journeys can have harmful effects on the animals.
Sitters, sweaters and clip joints
Some of the animal hospitals offer overnight stays for pets. Conditions of the facilities vary from temperature-controlled cages for small dogs to larger cages. Watch the charges, which are sometimes per day instead of per night. The cost for a simple cage is about 20,000 won per day.
One of the more convenient offerings is at Toegyero's Aegyeonjonghab Hospital. "We get customers who want us to hold their dog for a couple hours while they watch a movie at Daehan Cinema," one of the store clerks said. For 5,000 won, you can park your dog while you watch a movie a block away, then go back to pick up your pooch.
Cute enough to give baby clothes a run for their money, dog clothes range from sweaters to preppy tank tops to Santa Claus outfits. Of course, the dog duds come in a range of sizes, like extra-small to large. But take note: Large is still for small dogs. Outfits cost 15,000 won and up.
Also available to pamper your pooch are coat accessories, grooming kits, shoes, leashes, bowls and imported food.
DOG GROOMING ACADEMY
The pet market is not only a mecca for prospective owners, but also for prospective handlers, groomers and pet shop owners. There are several academies in the area that teach dog grooming, and the students are willing to pay more than 3.5 million won ($2,600) to learn. "Pet grooming is about total coordination," says Kwon Hyuk-hwang, the manager of Kwon Sang Gook Pet Grooming School. "Fur is both clothing and accessories. And pedigree pets take a lot of grooming."
The Kwon Sang Gook Pet Grooming School has 120 students, and the nearby Korea Pet Dog School has 80 students. Both offices are crammed with awards from dog competitions throughout Asia. "Experience counts," Mr. Kwon says. His school offers a two-year course for handlers, but the normal course is one year. For more information, call 02-2274-0818.
The pet market is hosting a festival in May during which clinics will offer free spaying and neutering services. There will be also be a dog show. For information, call 02-2274-8588.
Case of the crossbreed generates cross feelings
Life has quieted down for Youn Sin-keun.
"I like it better that way," the veterinarian says. About seven years ago, Mr. Youn, who heads the Korean Animal Protection and Research Society, was in the middle of one of the oddest disputes in dog history.
The Korean government had designated the sapsari, a native dog breed, a cultural asset. In the summer of 1995, Mr. Youn came across a 1743 painting of a sapsari from the Joseon Dynasty. The painted dog looked like a wolf, while the 20th century dog that was supposed to be the sapsari looked like a bearded collie.
Mr. Youn filed a petition requesting the government to annul the designation. Ha Ji-hong, a professor of genetic engineering at Kyongbuk National University, claimed the dog was the original. Tempers flared. Mr. Youn eventually proved that what was today the sapsari was a crossbreed, created in part by Mr. Ha.
In turn, Mr. Youn is now hard at work to create a breed similar to the Osu, a dog praised in old Korean texts. "Today's osu will not be an 'original,' but a new breed, like the German shepherd," he says.
But just because he is not stirring up controversy doesn't mean his work is finished. Last year, he petitioned to have the World Cup mascot be the Jindo dog, the first dog breed to be designated a cultural asset. The campaign failed. "Too bad for the World Cup," he says, and shakes his head and smiles.
Becoming a veterinarian was his destiny, it seems. "I have childhood memories of rough-housing with mutts and holding them as I fell asleep," he says.
Aspiring to have a job working with dogs, he was able to get an assignment during his army service to work with veterinarians. Ironically, his practice keeps him too busy to have pet dogs for himself. "I don't raise dogs anymore," he says. "But I still think dogs are the perfect companions."
by Joe Yong-hee