Animals Editor's Picks Op/Ed

I’m an alien raising a dog in Korea

Photo: Magazine If
Photo: Magazine If
Barbara Bierbrauer


The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated – Mahatma Gandhi

As we made the decision to adopt a dog in Korea we were aware of countless issues. Chewing, barking, pee and poo, outdoor training, leash training, vaccination and parasite prevention. We were aware that the costs for a dog in Korea are way higher than in Europe, some pet products are impossible to get and we were aware of difficulties and costs for flying a dog out of Korea. We had lists of pros and cons, contacted and checked various breeders and finally welcomed our new family member.

We thought we adopted a puppy. But we soon found out that for some Koreans we had an illegitimate offspring of an Alien and Predator liaison. On other days we were luckier and felt us just as ordinary monsters, walking another monster on a leash. The combination of a foreigner and a dog makes about 10% of ordinary passersby forget all their manners. All Korean politeness gets wiped away – daily we experience adult people pointing fingers, making photos of us and our dog and talking about us as if we would not stand just next to them, making barking noises, howling and screaming. Same applies for 90% pre- and school kids.

As our doggy came to us, he was just a normal puppy – friendly, curious, eager for attention, hugs and kisses. Half a year later we found us responsible for a mentally unstable, passive-aggressive and unpredictable animal. He was attacked by other dogs four times, while their owners were standing and watching. Twice he carried deep bites. Once a passing “ajuma” hit him with her cane. Twice he was hit by stones, thrown by kids. He became afraid of kids, men, women, older generations, toddlers, big dogs, middle-sized dogs and small dogs. Every walk became a torture for both of us – every second being aware that the next person could scream at you, jump on you, run away and yell behind your back. Yes, Koreans yell at dog owners, who take the liberty to walk their dogs on a leash in a park.

The Korean infrastructure for dogs and their owners is disastrous. Not only the public transportation system is often impossible to use for larger breeds, as dogs in Seoul’s and other cities’ undergrounds have to be crated. And I would like to see anyone taking a crate in a size of a small house with a 100 lbs animal inside up the stairs because there is no elevator. Even taking a private taxi requires a lot of research and nerves. And if you are lucky enough to be allowed in a taxi, it does not necessarily mean that you will reach your destination, as the driver can throw you out, because your dog whines.

All Korean public areas, where dogs are allowed without a leash can be counted on one hand’s fingers. Our city of Songdo, which is supposed to be next-generation-tomorrow-perfect-international-utopia, planed, designed and built by POSCO, Gale International and Kohn Pedersen Fox, has not a single spot, where the dogs could run freely. Not a single poo-bag dispenser. Not a single watering station. We know all available trash bins, where we can dispose waste – because there are so few. Funny enough, as billboards of POSCO for example, show happy family with a dog on a walk. A leash-free walk!

Once I was stopped by the park management and threatened to be forbidden in the park if my dog does not wear a muzzle. No, there is no rule for that, just this park management person thinks that my dog should wear one.

Now, in the summer, when parks make walk-through fountains, large signs forbid dogs to have a sip of water and cool for their paws. Also ponds are for every bird, fish, turtle and insect, but not for dogs. So are the most camping places, all malls, most restaurants and bars. We were even rejected the service at a street table at Hollys. In two years, we never saw a water bowl or a waiting corner in front of a store. While IKEA in Germany, offering waiting areas with drinking water for dogs during the summer is perceived as “nice gesture”, same in Korea is a) unimaginable b) would make a sensation.

Our house management tried to forbid us the use of the elevator, making us use the garbage-men entrance and the freight elevator. We were also addressed by strangers on the street, who would tell us that we were not allowed to keep this dog in our apartment.

While the number of dog-owners is constantly and steadily increasing, with it the number of abandoned dogs rises every year. The Korean society often lacks of the understanding for a dog being a companion and not an accessory. While in Germany the local shelters have almost no animals from own country, but are importing abandoned animals from Spain, Greece, Bulgaria and other countries, the Korean shelters execute thousands and thousands of own animals yearly. While the U.S. and Europe had to learn from own mistakes and have gone a long way to a current dog-friendly surrounding, Korea is following a way of a stupid – the one who does not learn from own mistakes, and does not learn from the mistakes of others, ether. While spending tons of money for animal collection, detention and execution, there are no funds for education of the population or creation of dog-friendly infrastructure.

The Korean government has no intention to regulate the wild breeding of unhealthy animals at animal farms, forbid the sale of puppies in malls, support the responsible breeding, re-home of abandoned animals and enforce the punishments for careless or cruel treatment. Because of that, the improvement of dog-related issues is left to few heroic enthusiasts, who fight their battle with the state and society daily.

In a nutshell – for a European dog owner, Korea is stuck somewhere in past centuries, with its citizens exhibiting rudeness, inadequacy and backwardness.

As every cloud has its silver side, everyday stress of having a dog in Korea brought us together with very special people. There is the Korea Kennel Federation with its extremely dedicated, professional and helpful management and staff. There are vets, who really care for animals they treat. There are pet shops, which support shelters and deny selling puppies from breeding mills.

There is Animal Rescue Network Korea with its members, who spend their time, money and sometimes health to help abandoned animals. There are no-kill-shelters, owned, run and supported by Koreans, like the EFL or KAPCA. There are responsible breeders and fantastic trainers, like the Dilingen Training Center. There are fellow dog owners and friends, who treat their animals as family members, with the respect and love that these wonderful animals deserve. There are our Korean friends, who help us in dog-related issues, although not having a dog by themselves. And last but not least – the majority of the people are friendly, smiling and waving while we pass by with our 2 dogs. Yes, as if one huge monster was not enough we adopted a second one…

About the author

Barbara Bierbrauer

Barbara Bierbrauer

Barbara Bierbrauer holds a master´s degree in political sciences, works as a freelance journalist in Korea and is the founder of the Songdo Dog Club.

  • alibsam

    Sounds like someone needs to leave Korea. I’ve had a dog here since 2007, and while I’ve had a few negative experiences, you make it sound like Korea is a torturous hellhole for pet owners.

  • Ji Hoo Woo

    It is indeed a torturous place for a large dog and its owner. I have a GSD and luckily we live in a country side. He get yelled at so often, was struck by a crane twice, kicked in the belly once (on our own lawn!) and all happened when my GSD was on leash. He now fears old mummy looking old ppl and barks crazy when they come near him.

    What you need to do is go to 애견카페 or few public dog parks in Seoul. That way your dog can have some positive experience in this hell hole country. But those places might prohibit large dogs. So yeah this country is a 70 years behind on pet policy and pet culture.

    • Discotech

      I can also echo Ji Hoo Woo’s experiences, as my dog has been kicked and caned during walks (leashed walks). And for all I can tell, the only reason was that it’s not a purse pup. She’s now scared of pretty much all people, and dogs, during our walks.

  • Discotech

    It’s tortuous even for foreigners with medium dogs.

    And the leash laws are ridiculous, but I feel it’s more than just animals here are accessories. It’s that Korean people don’t know how to properly raise and train animals. And they don’t care.

    Goodness, just today I was attacked (literally), by some middle-aged man’s dogs (2 medium sized bulldogs) who weren’t on leashes. Yet, because I appeared younger and am a foreigner, I got an earful of shit. Mostly because I wasn’t putting up with his dogs violence, or his. I wish I had taken pictures, because I now know it’s illegal to not have your pups leashed. Indeed, he called the police on me, which wasn’t resolved (his word vs. mine).

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