Often when people arrive here, they feel a little lonely without their family and friends close by. For some of us, coming to Korea is our first time living alone, after years of sharing rooms and apartments through university and those first years after school when student loans overshadow all other expenses. What better way is there to solve this loneliness than by getting a pet?
Well, let’s be realistic. Yes, pets are a great addition to a person’s life, providing companionship, love, and fuzzy cuddles (depending on the type of pet), and there are proven health and psychological benefits to caring for one. But there are downsides to pet ownership that many people overlook, which often ends up hurting the animal. If you are thinking of getting a pet to keep you company, please consider the following.
Pets are not disposable. Please, do not get a pet if you cannot or will not take it with you when you move on from Korea. These little creatures form deep bonds with their humans, and they suffer greatly when their person disappears from their life. Cats and small dogs can live for 20 years if properly cared for – this is a lifetime commitment you are making. Please take it seriously.
Korea does not have a system to handle unwanted pets, either. There are very few animal shelters in the country, and they’re all privately operated. They have very limited resources for helping stray or abandoned animals. Likewise, many vets offices will try to help with finding homes, but there are time limits. A dog or cat left with a vet or in a city pound will be euthanized after a week or so, as there is simply no place to put them.
If you can’t take the pet with you when you leave, consider volunteering for a group like Busan Abandoned Pet Sanctuary (BAPS), where you can go on weekends to walk the dogs at the shelter. Get your pet “fix” and help out a great cause at the same time.
If you are prepared to make the commitment to a pet, then there are some options for finding the right one for you.
Please don’t buy from pet stores. Puppy mills are rampant here, with sickly, malnourished, neglected dogs caught in a continual cycle of breeding and whelping. The puppies are taken from their mothers far too young, so that they have a longer shelf life of being cute at the shop, and they often have serious behavioural and health issues, from infected eyes to bad hips. Similarly, don’t buy from the lady on the street with a box of puppies or kittens. Doing so only perpetuates the cycle. You may be “rescuing” one animal, but you’re dooming the parents to another breeding cycle, as long as money can be made.
Instead, look to the shelters, like BAPS or Animal Rescue Korea. Here, your adoption fee goes to cover the costs of feeding and housing the animals, and you’re making room for another pet to be rescued from a horrible fate. They often have purebred animals if you’re looking for a specific breed of dog or cat, and there is a wide range of ages, from energetic young puppies to steady, older pets who just want a comfortable retirement.
There are also reputable breeders to be found in Korea, so please do your research if you choose to go this route. Visit the location to make sure they’re not a puppy mill.
Keep in mind that pets can be very demanding. They need to be trained where to go to the toilet, not to destroy your stuff, not to bite or scratch, etc. They need to be exercised (remember the mantra “A tired pet is a good pet!”), and they need vet care (rabies shots, distemper, heartworm meds, spaying or neutering – don’t add to the unwanted pet problem!). Pets take a lot of work, and if you’re coming home from work exhausted, it may be the last thing you’ll want to do, to clean up poop, or have an excited pet chewing on your fingers. You can’t go away for weekends without finding a pet sitter. You need to come home from work and walk the dog before you go out to the bar (and then you’re leaving it alone again after it’s been alone all day long). These are all things that people often forget when they see happy cavorting fur-babies in a pet-store window.
It pays to do your research into training and behaviour before you ever adopt an animal. The more you understand and expect before a furry creature enters your house, the less likely you are to be driven completely insane by their midnight capering, or chewing of your new sneakers. I highly recommend reading several books, such as Good Owners, Great Dogs by Brian Kilcommons (my bible when raising my Lab many years ago), anything by Caesar Milan, or anything off this Amazon list - or surf the net for advice. We also have an Ulsan Dog Owner’s group on Facebook, which is a great place to find helpful people, or organize doggy play-dates.
Don’t get me wrong. I love animals. I would have a house full of animals if I could (in fact, my apartment is so small, that my dog technically does make it full of animals). I think everyone should have a pet in their life if it’s possible for them. But every year I see countless posts on our Facebook group of animals found abandoned on the streets, or animals looking for new homes when their owners leave the country, and my heart breaks for them. If you can make the commitment to give a pet a lifelong home where it’s properly cared for, then by all means, go out and find one! But if you just want something to keep you company for the few months you’re here, try one of those apps where you have a “pet” to play with.