According to the Korean Animal Welfare Association, only about one in every 10 pets in Korea is fortunate enough to live with their human companions until the end of their days. The other 90% end up surviving on the streets as strays. This shocking statistic amounts to 130,000 pets being abandoned each year, according to Korea’s Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency. About half of them make it to shelters, where a quarter are euthanized due to a lack of resources. However, the aftermath of the pandemic has made this already critical situation even worse.   Many people experienced the ‘corona blues,’ a term coined to describe the depression, anxiety and general lethargy associated with extended periods of self-isolation and social distancing. To mitigate against the corona blues, many chose to adopt an animal companion as a means of getting through the challenges and hurdles of a two-year pandemic. Indeed, for many, this seemed a sensible course of action as the close bond forged between animals and their owners is well-documented and pets, particularly dogs, are known to decrease psychological distress, while providing emotional comfort and companionship. 

However, this well-intentioned cohort of new pet owners actually created another set of problems for abandoned animals. When owners return to their workplaces after lockdown, they no longer have the time, energy or previous need to dedicate to their new pet. Pets had become accustomed to having their owners at home and suddenly they were no longer around as much. On top of this, although the owner’s needs had changed with different circumstances, the pets still needed their owners as much as ever. Some of the new pet owners lacked the necessary knowhow and approach to adequately care for their animals and bond with them in the best way possible. Finding and choosing the right pet takes time and consideration; the match needs to work in the long term. Making an impulse decision to take on a new pet can be a catastrophe for the pet in question. The new owner may not comprehend the gravity of their decision, nor be fully committed to see it through. In Korea, only 12 percent of pet owners are reported as fulfilling their lifelong commitment to their companion animals. Pet ownership is a privilege that comes with responsibilities, including a financial cost to meet the pet’s welfare needs. 

This is the story of many of the abandoned animals that make their way to the animal shelter. Yet even here, their prognosis is not always good. The shelter does its best with meager resources to rescue the animals. However, if they are not adopted and taken to their forever homes within 15-20 days of their arrival, they will be euthanized, such is the pressure on the center’s limited resources. The proportion of animals being euthanized is circa 20% and has remained at this level for the past four years.  However, it’s a very different scenario than other countries with a national conscience and commitment to looking after their pets. The adoption rate for abandoned animals in the United States and Germany is 58% and 90% respectively. 

I’d advocate that all potential pet owners undertake a preliminary course to teach them the basic tenets of pet care, ensuring that they have a thorough understanding of what it entails before committing. Another option is foster care – if the foster placement works out, then an adoption would be a natural next step  For example, puppies are the classic failed pets. Puppies look cute until they misbehave, which is all part of them growing up. With the right intervention and training, puppies can grow into wonderful, well-behaved dogs. However, this takes dedication and hard work. Many owners get frustrated with their puppies long before this and take the easy route of abandoning them.