(You can find edits and updates at the bottom of the page.)
There’s a lot to be said about the pleasure one gets from seeing handsome and attractive young Korean idols and actors interact with their beloved pets. The internet is filled with such photos and many celebrity pets even have their own instagram accounts.
But owning a ‘pet’ was virtually unknown of in Korea until relatively recently. For a long time in Korea all animals had a utilitarian purpose, they were kept because they could do a job, or they were food. This philosophy can still be seen in some Korean people’s reactions to dogs in particular. Many Koreans are intrinsically distrustful of dogs, and some still fear them, particularly those people who were brought up by parents and elders who stressed that dogs are, ‘dirty, carry diseases, and bite.”
The traditional Korean viewpoint on dogs began to see changes in the 1990’s when people began to have more disposable income and a wider view of the world outside of Korea. At first the idea of ‘pet’ leaned more towards a dog being a fashionable living accessory, with the wealthy and bored dying their dogs all sorts of colors and dressing them up in clothes and jewelry. Although many Asians do still do this to their dogs there now seems to be more of the idea of your pet being your companion rather than an accessory or a toy.
Key is well known for loving his 3 dogs and dressing them up all the time. And there are many other celebrities who do so too. This happens in the US too, although not to the extent of in some Asian countries.
Having not grown up around animals as pets many of these idols are learning as they go, which does lead to some cringe worthy actions when seen by those more familiar with cats and dogs. At other times all we can see is the love between owner and dog and vica versa.
But Korean celebrities are doing the best they can and by showcasing their affections for their pets they are helping to erase the stigma of pet ownership, and perhaps change some long held beliefs within the older community.
At first entertainment companies weren’t too keen on idols having pets, because of the upkeep and what to do with them when the idol was overseas or busy, but nowadays most idols are allowed pets. Pets have proved to be ’emotionally stabilizing’ and provide unconditional love in times of stress, and the entertainment companies now leave it up to the idols as to what to do with them when they can’t take care of them. This leads to questions from fans when popular puppies grow up and disappear from the scene. In most cases friends or family take in the grown dog but sometimes I’m left to wonder.
In the past few years the number of Koreans owning pets has risen dramatically, from 17.4% of Korean households owning at least one pet, to 22% in 2015. This does, however, still include people who chain their animals up outside, which for many of us reduces the dog to more of an ‘object’ to be owned, rather than a pet even if its living conditions don’t look too bad.
Some theorize the surge in the number of pets is due to the rise of single family households and the fact that pets are seen as a substitute for children by some people. With the rise in the number of pets there’s also been a large rise in the number of thrown away and abandoned pets, more than 80,000 last year. Cases of pet abuse have also risen.
The Korean Government has enacted new laws governing the regulation of pet ownership and is trying to enact and enforce pet safety rules. Unfortunately there are estimated to be about 1,000 puppy mills in Korea with 80% of them being illegal. Most puppies in Korea do come from these puppy mills.
Cats were once seen as vermin and bad luck, and were even used as an ingredient in traditional medicine. Nowadays all that is slowly changing and many more Koreans are keeping cats as pets. Perhaps better suited to apartment dwellers, cats are becoming increasingly popular with both idols and the general population.
There’s a long list of Korean celebrities who own dogs and it would include Kim Sohyun, Roy Kim, Mark & Youngjae, Amber, Suhyun, Jin, Jimin, Zelo, Siwon, , Park Shinhye, Kai, Kang Sora, Seunghoon, GD, Taeyang, Key, Yang Yoseob plus many others. In fact in some cases almost every member of an idol group own dogs, UKiss and Shinwa are just two examples.
There’s also a long list of celebrities with cats to include Hyorin, Amber, Kim Soeun, Ahn Jaehyun, Kang Minhyuk, Kim Heechul, Myungsoo, Chansung, GD, and of course Jaejoong,
Winner has both a dog and 3 cats and have even had to bring in an animal behaviourist to help Oat who is sometimes bullied by the 3 cats.
A few idols have more exotic pets such as turtles, snakes, a chameleon and hedgehogs, with Yang Hyunsuk head of YG Entertainment owning, among other pets, a chicken. (Actually belongs to his daughter, but he took it on a TV show once as people didn’t believe the stories he told about it.)
Who is your favorite idol/pet combination? Let me know in the comments below. Mine is maybe Key as he fusses over his dogs like an old lady, and he obviously loves them.
Edit 05/26/2017 It looks like there might be a push towards more responsible pet ownership gaining ground.
Edit 06/25/2017 tourist facilities for those with pets are being planned by some municipalities.
Edit 10/25/2017 Siwon dog controversy. Siwon of Super Junior has been in a serious controversy recently when his dog Bugsy got out and bit a neighbor. The neighbor actually died a few days later from sepsis. This has led to a great deal of debate and discussion on irresponsible pet owners. (Bugsy apparently has a history of biting.) The government has now implemented harsher fines and penalties on owners of unleashed pets.
Edit 11/03/2017. Siwon won’t be present in Super Junior’s comeback activities. Koreans who are not pet owners are calling for more restrictions for pets and pet owners. A pet trainer explains some of the reasons why pet ownership has led to some of these current problems in Korea.
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