[Viewpoint] Treat dogs as companions, not food

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[Viewpoint] Treat dogs as companions, not food

As the people’s quality of life improves, their interest in companion animals like dogs and cats increases, and more families own them. In Korea, the number of families with companion animals has grown rapidly since the late 1990s.

But there are several problems with this increased interest and the growth in numbers of those animals.

In Korea, more and more people regard companion animals as part of the family and share their love with their pets.

However, it seems our society as a whole is not accustomed to the idea of viewing pets as companion animals.

People seem to want to own pets as soon as possible without trying to learn and understand about animals first.

But there are several points to think seriously about before one decides to have a companion animal.

Some of these issues include whether one can spend time with a companion animal as its master, whether one’s home is the right environment with enough space for a pet, and whether one has the economic means to give the pet medical treatment whenever it is ill.

Even after this, one needs to learn about animals and how to give a companion animal basic training to adapt to human society. This is necessary to bring an animal up as a helpful companion that is loved by its own master and neighbors.

The bond between master and pet is built on mutual trust. Trust stems from the master’s love and care. It is the master’s responsibility to train the pet, based on prior knowledge of animals, to nurture it as a well-trained companion animal.

When the master neglects his responsibility, the animal becomes hostile to human society and exhibits abnormal behavior.

Abnormal behavior causes conflict with the master, and the mutual trust is lost. The master then thinks seriously about whether to keep the pet or not. As a result, many dogs are abandoned.

Therefore, a person who thinks about owning a pet must be prepared to take responsibility as master.

Foreign countries say that our pet culture is unique because ownership of dogs as pets and the culture of consuming dog meat coexist.

The dog meat issue is constantly challenged not only inside Korea but also by animal protection organizations in other countries.

One side argues that it is our tradition to eat dog meat, and another side maintains that it is inhumane to consume dog meat since dogs are man’s best friend.

Their arguments, of course, clash. Years ago, a National Assembly representative suggested the creation of facilities to process dog meat in a hygienic way and came under severe criticism from dog-lovers, animal rights advocates and animal protection organizations.

Even if dogs as pets and dogs as food are different, as some maintain, the lawmaker had no understanding of the situation at all.

The other day, I read a weekly magazine, and an article in it was about the president’s favorite food.

When I read that he enjoyed dog meat to stay healthy in the summer, I was shocked - as if someone had hit me in the head with a hammer.

Now, perceptions about dog meat have become more civil thanks to various efforts. But when former president Chun Doo Hwan visited England in 1989, he got in trouble because of the dog meat issue.

When the weather becomes hot, dog meat always comes up in the mass media.

And unlike in other countries, we Koreans definitely prefer dogs as pets than any other animal including cats.

It seems that Koreans’ love for dogs is boundless. I hope that we will no longer have to talk about dog meat from now on, but instead talk about dogs only as pets.

I truly believe that the latter is much more helpful in various ways to humans than the former.

*The writer is a professor of veterinary medicine at Seoul National University and the director of the Seoul Zoo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Shin Nam-shik
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