Marty has been missing for over two weeks now, and while looking for him I’ve notice even more so than before how Koreans see animals. I’d been wanting to make a series of posts about how Koreans seem to see things, so I figured I start with this one.

First of all, I’d like to be objective with these posts since who am I to judge another culture? There is some weird stuff that happens in American culture. But this topic hits a little close to home so I will probably at some point be biased.

Korean Jindo

Korean Sapsal

There are several dogs native to the Korean penninsula, including the Sapsal, the North Korean Poongsan and the Korean Jindo, all of which are National Treasures  in South Korea. The Sapsal was strictly a house dog but the Jindo and Poongsan were military dogs. Now even though these dogs were bred along time ago, Korea doesn’t seem to have a history of animal welfare.

Which helps to contribute to the strange dual approach Korea seems to take toward animals. It breaks down like this:

  • Purebred puppies and pure bred/ pure bred-looking toy dogs = ADORABLE
  • Mix dogs = Disposable.
  • And poor big dogs can only be guard dogs until they’re eaten (okay, I exaggerate, but that is how a lot of Koreans see bigger dogs).

Now obviously there are plenty of people in Korea who love animals and treat them well, dedicating a lot of time and effort to rescuing the many animals that are on the streets. But more often than not, dog owners seem to run into Koreans who have different ideas about dogs and animals.

Let’s look at little dogs first. Koreans seem to spend a lot of money on their little dogs. They buy them from pet shops when they’re only a few weeks old (which is totally not cool and way too young for those puppies by the way) for a couple hundred thousand won. They buy them tons of clothes and keep them nicely groomed. Dyeing their fur seems to be popular as well. But I’ve heard of many instances when the puppies get too big or the family gets bored of it and the dog is abandoned at a shelter. Or, as was the case with Marty, the dog gets injured and is then abandoned. My vet thinks that Marty lost his vision in his eye from an infection, although it could have also been injured and Marty does have scars on his body that look like stab or cut marks. Whatever happened to him, he clearly had a neglectful if not downright bad owner. And he was left at a kill shelter in Busan, so it doesn’t seem like a lot of consideration was put into finding him a new home if his owner didn’t want him.

To be fair, I have also heard A LOT of stories about westerners getting pets and then giving them up before they go home. In some cases, the westerner has to leave because of a family emergency that prevents them from taking their pet. But in a  lot of cases, it seems like they got a pet that was too much too handle, or too expensive, or they too got bored of it. Sad…

There are a lot of stray dogs where I live in Suwon. I’ve noticed different reactions to the stray dogs and dogs in general that are out and about from Koreans. Either they ignore them, they fear them (even tiny little Marty), or they think the dogs are the cutest things. Generally, the 3rd option is the best but even that is not so good sometimes. Sometimes, they pick up the dogs and I’ve heard from some other foreigners that a few will pick up and take the little dogs with them. And they try to feed the dogs (which I know happens in the United States too sometimes) – unfortunately the food includes chicken bones and soju :(… Ignoring them is generally best. Sometimes the fear just involves them screaming and running away, or tensing up and trying to get away. However, once an old woman did stomp around Marty when he started walking towards her and I’ve noticed that reaction towards other dogs, especially bigger ones.

The other day, I was out looking for Marty when I came upon two fellow foreigners in the park who were walking their long-haired Chihuahua (very popular here). They also had, or so I thought, I kind of funny looking black dog. It had the body shape of a Labrador but it’s legs were really short like a tiny dog. Actually it might have been a cross between a Pekingese and a larger black dog. I thought the black dog was theirs too but then I heard the woman on the phone in Korean. I understood enough to hear her explain that the black dog didn’t have a collar so I figured they were calling the police about him. Thing is, the dog had a choke collar (no address tags) and was very friendly, so clearly someone’s pet. Unfortunately, that was at least a week ago and the dog is still waiting at Hi Pet (which is the vet that Marty went to, who I’ve been checking in with trying to find him). It’s kind of sad. Someone commented to me the other day that there are so many dogs that have been lost or abandoned and no one is looking for them and yet the dogs that people are looking for cannot be found.

I gave Marty’s posters to all the vets in the area. Someone else has lost their dog and gave posters to the same vets. On the poster it says the dog is a mix, which I can’t help but feel is going to work against finding it even though it’s the cutest little dog. There are a lot of things that work against finding lost dogs here in Korea, or at least Suwon, that I’ve been noticing. First, there are a lot of places for them to hide. A LOT of places. Second, because of all the street animals, people don’t pay too much attention to the animals or the state they’re in.

Third, Koreans are super not-okay with posters. On the one hand, I always see flyers thrown all over the ground for local bars and there are always flyers for chicken and take-out restaurant stuffed into mailboxes. But when I went to the police to report Marty missing I was specifically told that I could not hang up flyers for him (I did it any way though). And then the flyers that I hung up were taken down, but not by police officers. Just by random people. It was kind of annoying because I tried to put them up in places where they would be noticed but not bother anyone. Some I actually had covering graffiti so I figured that was kind of a good thing. After spending a week trying to keep up posters that would stay up for a day if I was lucky, I started putting flyers into mailboxes. But even that has it’s down side since apparently the landlords of the apartment buildings will take the flyers out of their tenants mailboxes and throw them in the trash. 😡

To end this post, I’ll just leave you with some of the comments I got from my students, who I recently appealed to to help find Marty. I actually planned NOT to tell my younger students, because I knew they weren’t mature enough to handle it but they found out eventually. Most of those students wanted to know why I had a dog with only one eye, with one student asking where and why did I buy and him instead of a “healthy” dog and insisting I should just buy another dog until I find Marty (at which time I guess I would just get rid of that second dog). A few of the students asked me if I ate him (he would not have made a meal, let alone a tasty one) and several joked (to their amusement, not mine) that Marty had probably died. My middle school kids were better. They seemed sad that he was missing and one of the students even said “Teacher, I have a dog so I know how you feel.” Don’t get me wrong, my elementary students (who I see twice a week) ask me every day if I’ve found Marty (and they call him by his name) and definitely want me to have my dog back, so I take their “Teacher, I saw your dog! In my MIND” comments with a patient sigh. But I think the empathy from the middle school students comes from the fact that they have all lived for a long time abroad and not that they are simply two or three years older.