Pets in Korea

The top story in the news this week was the death of a businesswoman who died several days after being bitten by a dog.

A high profile tragic case involving a pet has been on the cards for a while, what with the dramatic increase in pet owners over the years. And now it’s happened.

The victim was the CEO of Hanilkwan restaurants, famous for Korean cuisine, who was bitten by a neighbour’s dog as she stood in the lift of her apartment building in Gangnam. Within days she had died of blood poisoning. Anyone into K-pop will probably know that the dog in question belonged to the family of boyband Super Junior member Choi Si Won.

choi siwon

picture: Chosun Ilbo


The family of the victim have announced that they are not going to sue for compensation since they are neighbours of Si Won’s family. They just want to mourn in peace. But the tragic incident has brought an outcry from netizens and k-pop fans arguing over who is to blame.

Choi Si Won wrote a letter of apology on Instagram but apparently since this was not the first time the dog had bitten someone there has been criticism of the the family for not controlling their pet properly. Netizens in Korea have also said that Choi Si Won should pull out of his current drama, Revolutionary Love, which just started airing in Korea this month. (It’s his first project since finishing national service).

On the other hand, Choi Si Won fans have been quick to jump to his defence with some blaming the victim herself for not going to hospital on the day of the accident.


So how did it happen? SBS news showed CCTV footage of the dog getting into the lift. When the doors open the dog walks unleashed into the small lift which already has several apartment residents inside. Within seconds the dog owner hurries into the lift and grabs the dog and carries him out. You can see the footage here…

This video demonstrates one of the problems with owning pets in Seoul – most people live in apartments and many of these buildings can reach to over 40 floors leaving no choice but to use the lift. And a nervous dog in a confined space with strangers is surely an accident waiting to happen.

Yes, when I see a cute chihuahua in a hanbok pottering down the street or a poodle tucked up in a buggy being pushed along the riverside I wonder again if we too should get a dog. But is it OK to keep a dog in a tiny apartment with no garden?

I think the answer is yes … but only if you are home enough of the time to take the dog out several times a day. And train and control the pets to make sure they’re ok around people.

The government has announced it’s going to toughen regulations for pet owners. Of course there have been other injuries and deaths due to attacks from pets before now, but they haven’t made the news. This incident should be a reminder of the care needed when keeping a pet especially when living in such confined spaces as an apartment complex.



picture: barker website

There are over 10 million pets in Korea and the number is expected to double by 2020.  And I have to say that over the past few years I’ve really noticed a lot more furry friends around. Not to mention a dramatic increase in pet accessory sections in the department stores and vets and pet salons everywhere.

I went back to the area where we used to live and saw (at least) three pet stores on the main street that were not there before. Brands like (Korean based)  Barker sell items for pets including fashion forward clothes and accessories. Some dogs wear shoes when they go out – I suppose it’s so that the owners don’t have to wash their paws when they come back in the apartment. (Cleanliness is definitely an issue here and many people still think that dogs should not be allowed in the house)

Other business opportunities have arisen including a pet taxi service and a selection of Themed Pet Cafes not just with cats and dogs but more unusual and exotic animals too like sheep, racoons, and even meerkats…

There are several theories as to why pets are increasing in popularity.

Firstly, more people are living alone. The number of single households is now over 27% and rising. Secondly, the falling birthrate has been mentioned as a reason for the increase in pets – people are replacing babies with puppies. Thirdly, lots of  Celebrities show their pets off on social media perhaps encouraging their fans to look into getting a pet. And finally, there has been a rise in TV shows which feature cute animals.


So there are lots of pet based reality shows. Season 2 of the show A man who feeds the dog is on now and it incorporates two of the most popular trends in reality TV… celebrities at home with their families + cute animals.

The studio panel and audience watch footage of the celebrities talking with their families and going about their daily business while they decide which kind of dog to get – issues with doggy smells and doggy poo being major concerns. Here’s a clip of the show. No subs though…

But the dog breeds chosen are always cute and OF COURSE pedigree. TV shows can affect the breeds that the public chooses to get too. According to a quote from this article

Many people adopted the long-haired Chihuahua after the breed went famous on “Three Meals a Day,’” said an official from the Korean Animal Welfare Association. “But many pet owners abandon the dogs after they find it difficult to raise them.”

Still, there are positives to this pet trend. Dog meat restaurants have lost popularity for a start. And the current president Moon Jae In has raised awareness of animal welfare as he is an animal advocate and has brought rescue pets into the Blue House for the first time.

president Moon Jae In

One thought on “Pets in Korea

  • October 25, 2017 at 5:52 am

    I have no interest in Choi Siwon, but I’m sad that there are people calling for his dog to be euthanised. I think the biggest fault lies in Siwon’s family for not training the dog properly and not taking responsibility for the animal when they already knew it had previously bitten someone. Pets are a commitment and not to be abandoned or killed when the going gets tough, so even as Siwon’s family makes the appropriate compensation and apology to the victim’s family, they should also take active steps to ensure this won’t happen again. Euthanising the dog will not solve anything if the next pet they get ends up causing trouble because of their negligence.

    I think it’s great that the new president is an animal advocate. I hope he works hard towards raising greater awareness of animal welfare.

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