Pet delivery services face criticism for abuseIn line with its low birthrate and aging population, South Korea has seen pet ownership grow in recent years, with one in every five households living with at least one pet.
Related businesses have grown accordingly, but with a callous disregard for the pets. Dogs, rabbits, hamsters and other animals continue to be delivered by mail, with many ending up traumatized, sick or dead.
The Korean Animal Welfare Association (KAWA), a civic group for animal protection rights, said it has received numerous reports of online retailers delivering pets through parcel delivery services.
Article 9 of South Korea’s animal protection law bans pet sellers from using mail services for delivery of certain species. Only person-to-person transactions with adequate nutritional and environmental care are allowed.
An anonymous tipster filed a report with the association in July after receiving a rabbit from an online seller based in Iksan, about 200 kilometers (miles) south of Seoul. The customer claimed to have received a sick rabbit in a cardboard box delivered by freight.
“I feel awful knowing that an animal is treated like a product when in fact it is also alive,” the person wrote to KAWA. After taking the rabbit to a veterinary clinic, the person contacted the company only to receive this flabbergasting response: “Why did you take it to a clinic? We can replace it.”
Iksan’s livestock control officials later took notice and fined the company. The owner promised the city to stop mail shipments of its animals. But the company’s web site shows it is still offering shipments through parcel services.
Another pet purchaser, based in the southeastern city of Gyeongju, claimed in 2015 to have received a puppy from Seoul through an express bus delivery service, which takes about five hours.
After the box arrived, the customer was shocked to find the canine covered in feces and barely moving. It also purportedly had some skin disease, with large chunks of its fur having fallen off.
“I called up the company the next day and the owner responded in an indifferent tone, saying to send back the puppy in another box. He said the company would take care of the disease for one month but didn’t offer a refund,” the customer said.
In October 2013, a graphic photo of a box filled with dead rabbits made the rounds on the internet. The rabbits were said to have been crushed while being delivered with other freight. The image has served as a wake-up call to address the malpractice of pet delivery via mail.
Companies that ship animals by mail are seen as treating the pets as inanimate objects. For example, an online hedgehog seller that can be found on Naver notes in its purchase terms, “If a hedgehog perishes during delivery or seven days after it is received, we will send another hedgehog.”
It’s hard to discern how many online pet transactions are conducted through parcel delivery. Probably the most extensive and quantitative research on the matter is a June 2014 report co-authored by Action for Animals, an animal protection advocacy group, and a group of biology and wildlife researchers who call themselves Sad Scientists.
The two groups analyzed some 42,000 posts on two of the largest online pet sharing communities in the country - Sellpet (now changed to Somepet) and Petian - that offered to share newborn pets. Of those, 34 percent stated that they prefer person-to-person handoffs while 19 percent said they wanted to use parcel services. Another 47 percent did not specify the preferred method of delivery.
“On posts that specifically demanded person-to-person transactions, many people had asked for the use of mail services. It can be guessed that a lot of the deals in which the seller sought person-to-person exchanges actually ended up using mail,” the report noted.
Advocates see the current animal protection law as lacking teeth, since violators are subject to a maximum fine of only 1 million won ($896).
The law also prohibits parcel delivery of only six types of pets: dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs and hedgehogs. Shipments of other animals, such as birds or reptiles, are not restricted.
Some experts suggest stricter regulation is needed in the field of pet transactions, as the ease of buying and selling animals tends to cause people to see pets as products or goods as opposed to living creatures.
“When seeing it from the perspective of adopting a family member, one probably should not buy pets as if shopping for any other product,” said Chae Il-taek, head of the policy team at KAWA. “Unless people are forced to make face-to-face transactions, this practice will probably continue.”