Animal shelters in search of ownersIt was a cold, snowy winter night on Jan. 22, when my 3-year-old dachshund disappeared. No one in my family knew when he had slipped out of the house.
For two months, I did everything I could to find my dog. I wandered around our neighborhood, made dozens of phone calls to animal hospitals and police stations and placed posters at bus stops.
It was a truly devastating, frustrating experience. At nights, I kept searching for him in cyberspace. I posted messages on Internet bulletin boards in pet lovers’ communities. I also learned that lost pets were sent to district offices in Seoul and the shelter of the Korea Animal Rescue Management Association. At www.karama.or.kr, the descriptions and photos of pets it rescues are updated every day on its Internet bulletin board.
It was on March 23 that I found a photo of a black dachshund posted on the association’s site. It said the dog was rescued about two weeks ago in Yangpyeong-dong, Seoul, about a 30-minute drive from my home. I sent an e-mail to the organization, saying that I wanted to visit to see if it had found my dog.
Leaving home around 8 a.m., I arrived at the association’s shelter in Yangju, northern Gyeonggi province, around noon. The compound smelled awful, but the staff was happy to see me. And best of all, there was my Benny.
The Korea Animal Rescue Management Association sees returning lost animals to their owners as an important task, but it has another, arguably more critical, mission: finding new homes for homeless animals.
According to the Seoul Metropolitan Government, about 230,000 pets, mostly dogs and cats, are currently raised by Seoulites. However, the city government also noted that more and more pets were left to fend for themselves on the streets. It said 2,153 pets were abandoned by their owners in 2000, and the number more than tripled last year to 7,389.
“It is growing so fast,” said Lee Yun-oh, a Seoul Metropolitan Government staff member in charge of animal welfare. “As of this first quarter, already 2,404 pets have been thrown out by their owners.”
The Seoul government said only 644 dogs and 150 cats out of all the abandoned pets found new owners last year. The rest were put to sleep because there aren’t enough facilities to shelter them.
The association, which provides shelters to homeless animals, said media plays a role in the increasing number of abandoned pets.
“TV shows increasingly portrayed the cute side of pets in recent years,” said Lim Hee-jin, manager of the Korea Animal Rescue Management Association’s homeless animal shelter in Yangju.
“That prompted the people to buy pets on impulse, without actually thinking about the responsibility of raising an animal. As a result, many pets were deserted after they got old or became sick. Some people even leave their pets behind when they move.”
The association said its shelter can hold about 450 pets, but the number of pets it rescues from the streets increases each month.
“We bring in more than 700 deserted pets from the streets to our shelter every month,” Ms. Lim said. “Because we do not have enough room to house them, we have no choice but euthanasia if the pets are not found by owners or adopted by new owners after sheltering them for a month.”
Ms. Lim acknowledged that the association practices euthanasia, but explained that it is a way to save animals from going through unnecessary pain.
“Of course, it is best for a companion animal to live a happy and healthy life, but sometimes we encounter an unavoidable situation,” Ms. Lim said. “Some people just leave behind their pets at the animal hospitals after veterinarians diagnose them with uncurable or serious illnesses. Those animals and some homeless animals were often subjects of animal testing and many other experiments, which are far too brutal to even describe.”
She said that abandoning a pet is more cruel than putting it to sleep, and that people are actually saving a life when they adopt a pet.
Ms. Lim and her association have initiated a campaign to encourage pet owners to be more responsible, but the number of homeless animals rescued by the association still grows every year.
In 2002, 2,437 homeless animals were sent to the shelter, and the number went up to 6,297 in 2003. This year, 554 were found in January, another 686 in February. In March alone, 896 homeless animals were sent to the shelter, which only has the capacity to house half that the number.
Even as it encourages the public to adopt pets from its shelter, the association also emphasizes that adoption is an act that requires much deliberation and commitment. It asks those hoping to adopt pets to fill out an application form and questionnaire from its Internet site.
After reviewing the applications, the association conducts interviews to find the pets new homes. It requires minors to obtain parents’ permission to adopt a homeless pet and asks the interviewees if their family members all agreed to raise the animal.
The association also requires adoptive families to get the pets spayed or neutered before the animals leave the shelter. The association said the procedure will not only calm the pets’ behavior but also significantly reduce the risk of cancer and other complications associated with reproductive organs. It also prevents the proliferation of more unwanted animals.
Another animal activist group, Areumpum, also provides adoption services through its Web site, www.withanimal.net. The organization charges 70,000 won for a dog and 50,000 won for a cat in order to support animal shelters and medical treatments for homeless animals. It also visits the adoptive families every three months, five times total, in order to monitor the pet’s living conditions.
Another animal rights group, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, also provides a similar adoption service, and the information can be found at its Internet site, www.carekorea.org.
by Ser Myo-ja