Janice Cho is looking for a new home to accommodate her two cats. Cho says she avoids the subject of pets when dealing with realtors, though no current law exists which prohibits companion animal ownership.
"There is a perception that the animal will wreck the place, fill it with germs, and drive neighbors crazy,” she said. "In my case, the opposite is true. The belief that animals are dirty, or make people more likely to get sick is just ignorant."
Veterinarian Choi Jae-hyek agrees.
Choi is the owner of Dr. Pet Animal Medical Center in Samsong-dong, southern Seoul, where he runs several programs to find new homes for abandoned animals, both domestically and internationally.
Dr. Pet operates seven days a week, 24 hours a day, providing health services for strays and performing emergency surgery. They are committed to educating owners about ways to keep their pets and their environments healthy.
"The benefits to owning and loving a pet are numerous,” he says. "Studies show us that caring for a pet reduces stress, can increase happiness, and can even boost the immune system of the owner. This includes children and babies."
Extra care essential
However, Choi acknowledges that a lack of education can lead to disaster.
"Pet ownership is on the rise,” he said. "Right now, there are about 10 million pet owners nationwide, and 80 percent of those are dog owners. Dogs require an extra investment of time and energy in order to maintain a healthy and problem-free home."
Choi explained that the number one mistake made by busy Seoulites is neglect.
"People are busy, and they leave their pet alone for too long. This leads to separation anxiety, and it sets the stage for troublesome barking, scratching and damage to furniture,” Choi said. “It isn't enough to love your pet. The pet needs socialization or the situation becomes unhealthy. We can cut an animal’s nails, and provide toys and scratching posts, but training and attention are vital."
Another issue is spraying, which can lead to unpleasant animal odors in a pet-owner’s home. This problem can be easily remedied by spaying and neutering pets.
Dr. Pet runs a program to provide financial assistance to those who cannot afford such surgical costs.
Allergies can also be a problem. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimates that approximately 10 to 15 percent of people are allergic to pets. Dander, a common source of pet allergies, is dead skin shed by pets on a daily basis. Urine and saliva are other typical sources of pet allergies.
Still, there are steps one can take to minimize the reactions, Choi said.
"In Korea, hard floors are the norm, but carpet should be avoided as it collects dander. Ventilation is important, and air purifiers are helpful in small apartments."
"Other problems are fleas and ticks, which are controlled with topical medication,” explained Choi. "The fleas do not spread diseases to humans, but they can lead to skin irritation."
Choi added that a new vaccine which prevents fungal infections is currently on the market in other countries, and that he expects to offer it at his clinic next month.
"In terms of clean-up after pets, bleach and a good vacuum do the job best,” he said.
Choi says that a new registration program for pets is expected to be implemented by the government next year.
"When people find stray animals, they often have many health issues which are expensive to treat. We try and minimize this burden so that people are capable of enjoying these animals, and enriching their lives."
For information on animal adoption, visit www.animalrescuekorea.org
Source: The Korea Times