South Korea moves to toughen law over negligent dog owners
South Korea is moving to strengthen measures to increase liabilities of dog owners and address safety concerns, after several high-profile dog bite cases raised public alarm recently.
Rep. Kim Tae-nyeon, chief policymaker of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, said Tuesday that his party will push to revise the Animal Protection Act to punish owners in pet attack cases. He also spoke of the possible addition of clauses calling for mandatory education for owners and the training of misbehaving dogs.
“By thoroughly reviewing cases abroad and public sentiment, the ruling party will establish a legal framework for pet attack cases and revise the Animal Protection Act so that it ensures the safety of both animals and humans,” said Rep. Kim.
At the moment, four bills that intend to reinforce the responsibility of the owners of fierce dogs and the punishment of owners in the event of dog attacks are pending at the National Assembly. Similar bills were proposed before, but discarded in 2006 and 2012.
On Monday, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs also said it would push to add specific dog bite clauses to the same law.
The ministry said it would seek to raise fines for owners caught not putting their dogs on leash in public to 200,000 won ($177) for the first-time offense, and 300,000 won and 500,000 won for second- and third-time violations, respectively. The current law imposes a penalty of 50,000 won, 70,000 won and 100,000 won, respectively.
Also, more breeds of dangerous dogs will become subject to stricter management, under the ministry’s plan. Currently, there are only five breeds under the category that must be leashed and muzzled in public: American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, Rottweilers, Tosa dogs and their mixed breeds.
Officials said they would consider any type of breed that is highly likely to attack and injure humans under the category of dangerous dogs and set specific examples of such dogs in the revised law.
The ministry also unveiled a plan to give out rewards to those who report negligent dog owners who do not leash or muzzle their dogs in public in violation of the law. About 10 to 20 percent of the levied fine in the reported cases will be given as reward money.
The ministry, however, remained cautious about the possible euthanasia of dogs involved in fatal attacks, citing possible opposition from animal rights group.
“(Regarding euthanasia), we should first set principles in the revised law so that the owners of dogs and their pets are not treated like potential criminals in our society,” said ministry official Park Byung-hong during a briefing.
Earlier this month, the owner of a famous Korean restaurant chain died six days after being bitten by a French bulldog, which was later revealed to be owned by popular singer and actor Choi Si-won.
But Choi’s father wrote on his personal social media account that investigations showed that she died of blood poisoning and that it was “difficult to determine the exact cause of her death due to a possibility of problems in the process of hospital treatment or secondary infection,” worsening the public’s anger toward his irresponsible attitude over the case.
As of Tuesday, over 800 people had flocked to the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae’s online petition webpage to call for stronger legal measures to urge compulsory leashing and muzzling of dogs in public.
According to the Korea Consumer Agency, a total of 1,019 dog bite accidents occurred here last year, more than quadrupling from 245 in 2011.
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