Feeding strays is hounding the neighborhood

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Feeding strays is hounding the neighborhood

Every neighborhood has animal-loving residents who feed stray cats or pigeons. Are they doing anything wrong, illegal or unsanitary?

On Oct.15, seven residents in Sinjeong2-dong, Seoul, decided to entrap people leaving food for animals near their houses. They hid in the shadows until late at night and finally caught a young woman who had left rice for stray pigeons and cats. They hauled her to the nearest police station and berated her: “The elementary school is near the spot where you were feeding the animals. Will you take the responsibility for our children if they become ill by the germs from their feathers or droppings?”

Police said they could not do much because there is no law against feeding stray animals. They took a statement from the woman and persuaded the two sides to go home.

An official at the Yangcheon District office also said it has similar problems.

“An 86-year-old man is feeding pigeons every day and many residents are complaining to us,” the official said. “We asked the man not to feed the pigeons because they are harmful birds, but he did not understand what we said.”

The debate has reached the Web site of Korea Animal Rights Advocates, a civic group for animal protection. On the site, some people confess that they were berated by neighbors for feeding stray animals, but they argued that they are merely being affectionate and sympathetic to homeless creatures.

Opponents argued that real kindness would come with adoption of the animals, and feeding strays just causes inconvenience and unsanitary conditions in neighborhoods.

But an official at the Ministry of Environment said Tuesday there is nothing the government can do about people who feed strays.

“Although some people are inconvenienced by droppings, it isn’t possible to ask the people who feed them or the government to compensate for any damages,” the official said.

Whether or not pigeons pose any health hazards is also controversial.

According to the law protecting wild animals, pigeons are defined in Korea as “harmful animals.” Some people assume that means that the birds’ feathers and droppings can spread germs.

But Korea Animal Rights Advocates said, “We consulted an expert who said germs and worms from pigeons cannot cause health problems.”

An official at Seoul city government agreed with the civic group. “When we say pigeons are ‘harmful animals,’ it means that when pigeons flock to heritage sites, they cause damage to it with their feathers or droppings.”

According to research conducted by 25 district offices in Seoul in 2009, there were about 35,000 pigeons in the city, and the city government said they did not pose a threat to human hygiene.

Opponents of feeding strays say that if abandoned animals are fed, they will breed too much.

Lee Yong-cheol, a consultant at the group Coexistence of Animal Rights on Earth, said cats have a tendency to breed in restricted spaces as they are usually trying to keep away from people or other animals. “If they were not fed by those people, they would be pawing through trash to get something to eat, which would make streets dirtier,” Lee said.

The Seoul city government has been managing a program to deal with stray cats called “TNR,” or trap, neuter, return. The program collects strays cats, neuters them and lets them loose.

By Shim Seo-hyun [heejin@joongang.co.kr]
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