Pandemic pets abandoned as Covid blues lift
Lee Ji-na, 20, never thought of herself as a dog person. But working from home for two months, she was overcome with boredom and loneliness.
“I felt caged in, especially as social distancing rules tightened and I couldn’t go out during the weekends as well,” said Lee.
One day, while endlessly scrolling through YouTube videos, she encountered a series of clips on adopted puppies and thought a furry companion could be just what she needs to get the better of her pandemic blues.
After some research, she visited an animal shelter in Jungnang District, eastern Seoul, and took home a six-year-old terrier named Molly.
Lee Kyeong-jin, 40, is also a first-time pet owner. She adopted two cats after staying home with her two sons for over a month, during which the boys did not go to school because of the pandemic.
“The boys used to play computer games all day, but now they spend time with the cats and take care of them,” said Lee. “The cats have really helped them to relieve their stress of staying home,”
Almost one in three Koreans are now pet owners, according to 2021 government report on adopted pets in Korea.
The percentage of people owning pets in Korea now stands at 29.7 percent — a 3 percentage point increase from 2019.
“Adoption rates rose so high that shelters were being emptied out,” said Lee Hyeon-joo, head of adoption department of Korean Animal Rights Activist group.
However, the heartwarming trend of pet adoption was short-lived.
While a monthly average of 7,955 pets were reported abandoned in the streets in the first quarter of this year, the average spiked to 10,769 during the third quarter, according to quarterly report by Animal Protection Management System of Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency.
“As the pandemic wears on and people transition back to their normal lives, we are seeing a steep rise in the number of pets being thrown out to the streets,” said Kim Min-jin, manager of Seoul Abandoned Animal Adoption Center.
“We suspect that people took them in when they worked remotely and couldn’t go outside because social distancing rules, then abandoned the animals when they were called back into the offices.”
In a survey that was conducted in May by Animal Welfare Awareness, Research and Education (AWARE), an animal welfare research institution, 58 percent stated that they thought the main reason for pet abandonment was the absence of heavier penalties for those releasing the animals.
Also recognizing the issue of pet abandonment and the lack of appropriate punishment for animal abusers, the Ministry of Justice in September passed a new amendment under the Civil Act to acknowledge animals as “sentient beings” as opposed to objects.
Through the amendment, animals have gained legal rights and citizens now face heavier punishment such as prison time, for abandonment, neglect and abuse of animals.
Another reason for abandonment is the lack of crackdowns and investigations in the abandonment cases.
The key to tracking down those who abandon pets is active implementation of the mandatory pet registration system, in which pets are required to be registered at local veterinary clinics.
Registered pets are given a pendant to wear around their collars or an electronic microchip is inserted under their skin.
“Pet registrations began in 2014, but even if the owner does not register the pet, the person faces no real disadvantages,” said Lee Hyeong-ju, CEO of AWARE.
Since October, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs has been actively pushing pet registration in the greater Seoul area.
During this crackdown, those caught in violation of any pet-related rules, including pet abandonment, face a fine of up to 600,000 won ($510).
“We will work with local government to crack down on any unregistered pets and remind owners to follow government rules on animal registration,” said Kim Ji-hyeon, the head of animal welfare policy of Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
BY OH YOO JIN, LEE JIAN [email@example.com]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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