Canines no longer lead a dog’s lifeOn a sunny Saturday in the wealthy neighborhood of Cheongdam-dong in southern Seoul, 20 women donned red aprons to attend a special cooking class led by French cuisine chef Thomas Niay. Slicing green peppers, cutting small diamond-shaped bits of carrots, and whipping cream with large spoons, they created dishes with elaborate names such as petits paves et olives (croutons with olive oil sauce), milles feuilles de saison (a seasonal pastry), and tomates a la Monegasque (Monegasque tomatoes).
When the cooking was done, the food was carefully arranged on large white platters, and brought to the tables, where it was served to the 20 companions who had been attentively watching the women at work. No forks or knives were required: the diners just dug right in, shoving their faces into the food, hungrily lapping up the sauces and licking the plates clean.
This might have been a scene from a bad cult movie were it not for the fact that the diners were dogs, not people. Hosted by the premium dog food maker Cesar, the event was held to teach owners how to make French treats for their pets.
“It is important to count calories, but sometimes, on special occasions, you want to make something special,” one of the attendees said.
In just a few years, the role of dogs has changed drastically in Korea, from being sturdy, reliable security guards that protected homes to becoming pampered toys and accessories.
According to the Korean Kennel Club, a non-profit association, the pet dog market amounted to about 2 trillion won ($2 billion) last year, with the household dog population put at approximately 10 million. Spending on dogs accounts for more than half of the overall pet market.
The reasons for the boom? The growing affluence of Koreans is one major factor, experts say, but more broadly it reflects the overall characteristics of modern Korean society.
“In the case of double income couples who don’t want children, a pet acts as a pseudo child to fill up the empty house,” said Lee Ji-yeon, a producer for a cable pet channel. “Also, now that Korean families are no longer extended families but nuclear families, elderly couples also find a source of comfort in dogs.
“Of course, there is the fact that people’s standard of living has increased on the whole, but it’s not just affluent people who are raising dogs. I personally think that people like dogs because they give unconditional love, unlike humans,” Ms. Lee added.
Taking into consideration the lavish services available for pooches, it would be highly improper to give the pet a commonplace name such as Fifi or Badugi (meaning “spotted dog”). In an extension of the naming culture for humans in Korea, agencies provide naming services for pets. For a fee, an agency will come up with the proper name for your dog, taking into consideration several factors, such as the day and time it was born and compatibility with the owner, among others.
“It is important to name the dog based on its breed. Psychologically, the name of the dog also contributes in some way to its personality,” said Choi Yoon-young, a dog namer based in Daegu. “The worst thing would be to give the dog a long name that has a lot of strong sounds like ‘p’ or ‘jj.’ It would be difficult for the dog to remember its name and the strong sounds will make it sensitive.”
Once your dog is properly named, you would want to provide the best of care and amusement for your beloved pet.
In fact, such places as dog cafes and dog pensions are no longer topics of discussion: new venues for the animals include special amusement parks and therapeutic swimming pools.
Petian Castle is one such place. About an hour’s drive from downtown Seoul to Yongin, Gyeonggi province, will bring you to a huge building that actually looks like a medieval castle. In it, you will find a swimming pool, training grounds, photo studio, shopping mall, restaurant, beauty parlor and other facilities just for dogs. Though not many people visit on weekdays, weekends draw crowds of up to 100 people (and their dogs), according to Kim Hye-jin, a Petian Castle official. Badugi Land, an amusement park for dogs, is now under construction in Anyang, Gyeonggi province, and is slated to open next summer, according to the developer, Badugi Land.
In keeping with the trend, housing company Dreamsite Korea has designed a housing complex for people who raise dogs. When completed, Puppian Ville, the name of the housing complex in Yangju, Gyeonggi province, will consist of 24 Western-style houses with plenty of lawn area for dogs to run around on. Nestled on a rural mountainside, the complex has recently begun construction; three of the houses have already been reserved.
“The special features that the houses in Puppian Ville have include a separate shower area, deck, stairs, entrance and ventilation system for dogs, among others,” said Kim Jong-seon, a Dreamsite Korea official. “Residents will also be able to use public dog facilities such as a playground, dog swimming pool and training grounds.”
Dog owners are also paying more attention to their pet’s health.
The Korean Veterinary Medical Association estimates there are more than 2,500 pet hospitals nationwide, with about half located in Seoul and its metropolitan area. Animal hospitals are no longer just hospitals, but rather specialized institutions to treat the different ailments that pets have.
In southern Seoul, hospitals like the four-story Doctor Pet or Pet Friends lead the way in high-end medical treatment. Pet Friends happens to be located right next to Tower Palace, one of the most expensive high-rise apartment complexes in Seoul.
Not only are there specialized departments ― surgery, dentistry, obstetrics, dermatology, and ultrasonography, to name a few ― but the hospital also runs a pet hotel and offers its own insurance policy, since pet health is not covered by regular insurance. For a yearly fee of 1.54 million won, a platinum-class insurance plan will cover vaccinations and treatment for major diseases, 30 free days in the hospital’s hotel, six free grooming sessions and a 20 percent discount on pet-related items.
To help keep your animal in tip-top shape, new products that are hitting the market include sports drinks, oriental herb nutrient capsules, organic cupcakes and dog food loaded with DHA, which reputedly helps the brain develop. For the over-indulged puppy, companies are selling diet-related products such as dog running machines and dietary supplements.
“Our main food products can only be bought with a doctor’s prescription and are tailored to each individual dog,” said Kim Sang-deok, head of Sungbo Science Tech, a pet food company.
If the dog’s life is meaningful to its owners, so is its death. Funeral homes such as Gangajinet and Petnara offer complete funeral services, from picking up the dead animal to wrapping its body in silk and having it cremated. The ashes are put in an urn, which the owner may take home or place in a vault in the funeral home. Depending on what kind of coffin, shroud and flowers are used, costs for saying goodbye can range from 150,000 won to 1.5 million won. Some funeral homes even operate “cyber cemeteries” online, where people can post photos of their pets and write messages.
“A lot of people say that people are foolishly spending so much money on their dogs, but it’s not the same as buying an expensive bag or clothes. The people who actually come aren’t rich, but they regard their pets as part of the family and their emotions are very sincere,” said Lim Sung-min, a funeral home owner.
Although Korea’s pet dog market is growing, it is still far smaller than that of other developed countries. According to the Korean Kennel Club, Japan’s dog market is about six times larger, while the American market is almost 20 times that of Korea’s. Luxury services such as sauna and aroma massage for dogs (which costs about 3,000 yen in Tokyo) or items such as chicken-flavored vitamin water have yet to be introduced here.
by Wohn Dong-hee