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Dog days are over? Popular dog trainer embroiled in workplace bullying dispute

May 21, 2024 - 17:00 By Yoon Min-sik
Kang Hyeong-Wook with two unnamed dogs (Instagram page of Bodeum Company)

A controversy is brewing over allegations that Kang Hyeong-Wook, one of the most well-known dog trainers in South Korea, has been bullying the employees at his company.

The rumor surfaced after the recent news that the 38-year-old has decided to cease operation of Bodeum Company Ltd., a training and consulting firm for dogs. Numerous users of the local job-searching platform Job Planet came across negative reviews of the company, which have since been posted online and circulated among the South Korean public.

What had initially been written off as a baseless claim became relevant in light of increased media coverage, as the people making the claims provided documents to prove that they had indeed worked for the famous dog trainer.

An anonymous former employee of Bodeum told local media outlet JTBC that working under Kang left her traumatized and that she had known controversy would break out eventually based on his constant mistreatment of his workers.

Another former employee claimed that Kang told her to "stop breathing. It's such a waste for you to breathe. You're worse than pests, just crawl away. Just drop dead," in a tearful interview with the broadcaster.

Other claims posted on Job Planet included one that Kang paid 9,670 won ($7) for an employee's last paycheck and another that Kang and his wife subjected employees to "constant gaslighting and insult." One said the company made employees sign a written consent that gave the employers the power to view any content on the employees' mobile messenger program, which was backed by a photo of the consent form dated 2018 and specifying Bodeum Company as the employer.

Another online post claimed to have received six cans of spam inside a dog poop bag as a holiday gift. Kang was alleged to have treated male employees particularly poorly, which was likened to the treatment of a slave.

It is unclear how many of the claims are true, but the public sentiment toward the once-beloved dog trainer has turned drastically.

Local broadcaster KBS on Monday did not air the latest episode of the "Dogs Are Incredible," starring Kang. It was reported Tuesday that the producers are mulling whether the show can keep airing in the aftermath of the controversy.

Workplace bullying is a serious issue in South Korea, where surveys suggest a considerable number of workers suffer from it. Abuse by a person with superior status toward a subordinate is called "gapjil" here and has been a prominent social problem.

A local civic group Gapjil 119 in April revealed the results of their February survey of 1,000 office workers, which showed that 305 respondents have been bullied at least once in the past three years. About 15 percent of them said they considered suicide because of it, including 22.4 percent of those in their 20s and 26 percent of those in their 30s.

Kang has not issued a response regarding the controversy. Bodeum Company on Job Planet has garnered an average of 1.8 out of 5 stars as of Tuesday.

Kang is among the most popular dog trainers in the country, having frequently made TV appearances since 2014 on dog-related shows to counsel those raising canines as pets. He has earned affectionate nicknames such as "Gae-tong-ryeong (dog president)."