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Putting abandoned animals up instead of down

May 4, 2011 - 18:44 By Kirsty Taylor
Even the staunchest of window shoppers can be taken in by pet store puppies’ wagging tales. But impulse buys don’t make for good pet owners, according to Lee Hyung-ju, campaigner for The Korean Animal Welfare Association.

“An animal should not be something you just pick up with your groceries,” she said, warning against buying pets in big supermarkets.

“The animals are often kept in very poor conditions and in terms of education, it really gives the wrong message. To kids, that means you can just go to the market and buy animals for scarily cheap prices. They need to think about what keeping a pet means first.”

That’s why the some 60 abandoned animals at the charity’s Seoul office are not so easily scooped from the shelves. The four-stage adoption process involves online, telephone and face-to-face interviews followed by an assessment of each potential pet-owner’s home by a KAWA officer.

“It is really tricky,” said Lee. “We need to have strict restrictions on who can adopt because we want to make sure that these animals, which have already suffered or been abandoned, can go to good homes.”

Her protective stance is understandable ― the charity receives phone calls reporting animal abuse horror stories every day.

Recently, a kindergarten teacher rang from northern Seoul to report that some pensioners were preparing to cook a dog and eat it.

“The woman said she had seen a group of old men in their 80s beating a four-month-old puppy. They were smashing his head to kill it to cook it. They broke his skull and jaws.

“Our director went with a male coworker to rescue the puppy. When she spoke to the men they didn’t see anything wrong with what they were doing.”

The puppy, whom the KAWA team named Bok-nam ―- wishing him the future happiness that the Chinese character “Bok” represents ― has now been nursed back to health, though he still cannot eat solid meals.

Bok-nam is one of Seoul’s luckier abandoned animals. KAWA’s no-kill policy means that he will never be put down, even if he is not adopted. Strays picked up by the government’s animal unit are routinely euthanized after ten days. KAWA says this policy applies to all animals who are not quickly adopted ― even if they are in good health.

“For a lot of animals, they just end up spending the rest of their lives with us,” said Lee.

“There are so many animals in Korea that need our help, that’s why we want to open the new non-kill shelter.”

A non-kill shelter is a refuge where animals are euthanized only if they are too sick to be treated. The planned 4,600-square-meter shelter will hold more than 300 animals at a time.

“Right now the shelter here at our office is a home for 36 dogs, eight cats and one hamster, but we get new animals all the time,” added Lee.

“We are raising funds to build the shelter and actively searching for the site. We are trying to find a spot that’s not too far from Seoul so that our workers and people wanting to adopt pets can get there easily. We hope to start the construction by next year.”

The charity has already raised almost 233 million won ($217,000) from private donations towards its 570 million won funding target.

In the meantime, KAWA’s Haengdang-dong office is bursting at the seams with rescued animals. No matter how crowded it gets, the charity, funded completely by private sponsors, will always seek careful owners.

“KAWA has pioneered the idea of animal adoption in Korea since we started in 2000 and we are very proud of that. When we have the new shelter we hope we’ll be able to find a lot more animals new homes.”

Those wishing to adopt a pet, donate or volunteer at the charity can email or visit for more information.

By Kirsty Taylor (