Animal abusers spark uproar
By Kim Rahn
Does an animal have rights or does it belong to an owner like property?
Korea takes the latter position and acquitted a dog owner of animal abuse despite the abuse involving dragging the dog on the road behind his car.
The incident, which Internet users call “Devil Equus,” took place on April 21 and was spread online after a witness took a photo of the scene and alerted an animal rights’ group.
According to the witness, a dog was being dragged along the Seoul-Busan Highway at around 12:13 a.m. The dog’s leash was tied to the trunk of the Equus sedan.
“I saw an unspeakable thing while driving on the expressway toward Seoul. Driving the luxury sedan, the driver may be highly educated, or have a lot of money and he was trailing a dog from the trunk of the car while driving very fast,” the witness said.
He continued that the dog was already dead as the dog’s internal organs had ruptured and the road was stained with blood. “Other cars running behind the Equus had to keep enough distance from it in case the leash came loose.”
Another witness said the Equus stopped after other cars honked at it, adding the driver, discovering the dog’s situation, looked baffled.
As the episode was posted online, there was uproar of people calling to punish the owner for animal abuse.
The next day, a person who claimed to be the owner’s acquaintance posted a message and said the owner put the dog in the trunk thinking the dog might make the car dirty.
“But he thought the dog may be short of oxygen if the trunk is shut, so he opened the trunk. But as the car sped up on the highway, the dog fell out of the trunk. After learning this, the owner was dumbfounded as well,” the person said.
But the explanation made bloggers angrier. “Is that an excuse, worrying about the car getting dirty? Is the car more important than a life?” a blogger said.
Some others didn’t believe the explanation, saying the trunk shown in the photo was shut tightly.
The Coexistence of Animal Rights on Earth (CARE), an animal rights’ group, filed a complaint with police on Monday.
Checking the license plate, Seocho Police questioned the dog owner but cleared him of the suspicion. “The car owner was drunk and had a replacement driver drive the car. We recognized he didn’t intend to abuse the dog, so we cleared him of the accusation and closed the case,” a policeman said.
Light punishment on animal abuse
Animals’ rights groups were furious about the way the case was resolved and held a protest in front of the police station in southern Seoul. They claimed the animal abuse charge should apply whether or not the offender intended to abuse.
“Currently, only those who clearly intend to abuse an animal are punished. It is controversial whether accidental homicide applies to animals. So far, no one has been charged for ‘accidentally’ killing an animal because Korean law regards animals as ‘property’ and not having their own rights,” Jo Hee-kyung of the Korean Animal Welfare Foundation said.
She said advanced countries punish people who don’t properly take care of animals. “They have legal criteria for animal care or transportation, so those who fail to abide by the legal guidelines and it results in injury or stress in the animal, they are punished. We don’t have such rules.”
According to the revised animal protection law which took effect in February, those abusing animals are subject to up to 10 million won in fines or up to one year in prison. But no one has been jailed yet, Jo said.
She said the state can take an abused animal away from the owner and protect it but the measure has limits. “The owner can claim it back if he or she pays the expenses which the state spent for keeping it. The state can’t deprive the owner of the animal because the animal is ‘property,’ while many other countries focus more on the animal’s right to life.”
CARE began collecting signatures for an online petition to set up a law banning animal abusers from raising animals again. More than 30,000 people signed in three days.