Animal Welfare Legislation: Improving animal rights in Korea


Animal Welfare Legislation: Improving animal rights in Korea


. Introduction


In the past our society was heavily agriculture-based and it allows us to have a long history of domesticating animals. However, our culture was not keen to keeping them inside our house. They were more likely to be considered as chattel and utilized for agricultural purposes if not served as food. In contemporary society, the majority of our population tends to gather in urban areas where most residents live in apartments and work in non-agricultural sector. Naturally, our human- oriented perspective on animals underwent changes due to changes in our life style.

Animals came to live inside our house with a different view on them. They are no longer regarded as chattels but as pet animals – animals kept by man in his household for private enjoyment and companionship. To illustrate, Korea has seen an increase in pet-raising population that now numbers approximately 10 million, expanding the size of related markets such as pet foods, veterinarian services and other pet products, up to 2 trillion won[1].

Unfortunately, this took place not only without preparation of laws that upholds animal welfare but also our awareness about that matter. In my personal view, the lack in awareness of animal welfare is reflected in our Animal Protection Law. It was not until 1991 that the first animal protection law was established. Not until 2013 when the obligatory registration of pet animal was adopted, there was no way to punish people who abandoned their pets.

In this research, 3 most serious problems caused by increased pet population will mainly be discussed, along with how to improve our current animal protection law; animal transactions, regulations on proper accommodations for animals and obligatory registration of pets.

To suggest solutions, animal welfare laws in European countries will be referred to. Only dogs will be subjected because of their large numbers in pet population.


. Animal Protection Law

Each country adopted their own animal laws with varying levels of protection to animals. Europe was the first in the world to draft an animal law and develop it most progressively. Today’s animal law is based on European animal law, necessitating the delineation of its development before further discussion.

1) Europe

Animal law was first primed and adopted by England. The first animal protection was aimed at abolishing bull-baiting, a practice in which a bull was tied to a stake and then immobilized by a pack of dogs for a crowd’s entertainment[2].  Great Britain served once again as the birthplace of reform established for farm animals. It can be summarized as 5 freedoms[3] which were nourished by a group of philosophers such as James Jasper, Dorothy Nelkin, et cetera. They helped keep the animal movement alive in its early days, publishing works on animal ethics and lent the movement intellectual credibility[4].

Today, Europe faces a new era of animal protection law since they are attempting to pull it up to supranational level in the name of European Union. It has established several sets of law to provide diverse protection to animals in different circumstances. It classifies animals into two groups – wildlife and domesticated – and domesticated animals into several subgroups – farm animals, pet animals, and laboratory animals. Transportation of animals and regulations on slaughtering animals are also distinctively stipulated. Among all these sets of law, European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animal[5] directly relates to pet-animal issues and copes with them in multifaceted aspects that are lacking in today’s Korean Animal Protection Law.


2) Korea

The Korea Animal Protection Law was first adopted on May 7th, 1991 and is still in the process of reform. The most recent one was in July 2013 and the law will be effective from 2014. When the revised law goes into effect, people mistreating their pets may spend time in prison for up to one year, or pay a maximum fine of 10 million won. It is the first time for our country to include a jail sentence as a penalty for ill-treating animals[6]. Notwithstanding a few revisions – elevation of the level of punishment for animal abusers and additional clauses for wildlife protection – present animal protection law in Korea still needs refining. Animal Protection Law includes all kinds of animals:  wildlife, pet animals, farm animals and laboratory animals. Even though we all agree on that every animal needs to be protected, it is also true they need different types of protection under different circumstances. For example, Article 10 regulates the slaughter of animals. Aside from the fact that it is merely applied to livestock animals, it seems significantly disparate from the rest of Animal Protection Law. Our current animal law should be specifically classified to address animal issues in a more refined way as animal laws of the EU.


III. Regulations on Pet Transactions

Both Europe and Korea seem to be aware that pet transaction is the inception of all other pet animal problems. Regulations on pet transaction are dichotomized vis-à-vis sellers and buyers. Regulations on both sides make pet transactions harder so that people cannot purchase pets like any other goods, causing them to deliberate before deciding to raise them.


1) Europe

Article 6 of European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals(ECPPA hereinafter)  limits  the age of pet owners . It states that no pet shall be sold to persons under the age of sixteen without the express consent of their parents or other persons exercising parental responsibilities.

According to Tasker’s study, only 13 (42%) out of 31 countries surveyed had national legislation that specifically addressed pet ownership(Appendix 1). Current regulations in 13 countries stipulated the age at which a person or persons could be considered responsible for an animal. In most cases the legislation required owners to be over 16 years of age. Switzerland, which is not a member country of the EU, has adopted extraordinary legislation; since early 2007 all dog owners have  been required to undertake practical and theoretical courses in responsible dog ownership including dog training and behavior[7]. Given the fact that pets are at the mercy of their owners it is very important to sell pet animals to responsible people who can take care of them throughout their entire lives. Limiting the age for pet acquisition is the least measure that governments can adopt to qualify people who desire to own pets.

As to breeders, they should be equipped with proper accommodations and take care of animals according to Article 8[8]. According to Tasker’s research the sale of dogs and cats was regulated in 18 (58%) countries among 31 surveyed countries(Appendix 1). Overall, legislation prohibited the sale of pet animals in certain locations such as at markets and in streets. Some countries intend to regulate the sale of animals through pet shops, for instance; Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, UK and Switzerland[9].


2) Korea

Korea stipulated the registration of animal retailers and undertakers in Article 32. More specifically, in Article 33.1 any person who is underage or quasi-incompetent or incompetent cannot apply for registration.

However, regulations on age of pet acquisition need to be established  since it is intertwined with other issues; first, too many irresponsible people are allowed to purchase pets that result in an increase  of stray animals later; second, to meet increased demands in pet industries, unregistered domestic breeders who often use their houses as pet farms force their animals to give birth to as many off-springs as possible in stressful and unsanitary environments. We do not have any measures to punish them since they are not officially regarded as “commercial breeders”. Thus, a person who keeps pedigree animals, whether or not as pets, who sells the pedigree offspring of those animals as pets, is unaffected by our Animal Protection Law. Furthermore, a person who sells the offspring of his or her own pets, whether pedigree or otherwise, does not  need a pet shop license even if the person doing so can be seen as  conducting a business. Therefore, our government should reform the definition of breeders to include domestic breeders and keep them under supervision.


  1. Ban on Any Surgeries for Non-Curative Purpose

Dogs are often subjected to surgeries for non-curative purpose such as tail docking and ear cropping. According to the study of Quartarone et al. in the past, these interventions were performed mainly for practical purposes to prevent injuries to working dogs, whereas now the reason is predominantly cosmetic. Recently, many show dogs have their ears cropped and tails docked just to give them a “traditional” look. There is no medical benefit to having a dog’s tail docked or its ears cropped not to mention these procedures may cause pain and distress, as they are often done without any anesthesia[10].


1) Europe

The EU strictly forbids any surgeries for non-curative purpose such as devocalization, docking of tails, and declawing. Although it calls for the prohibition of the above-mentioned surgical operations, it specifically acknowledges the right of nations, which otherwise accept the Convention, to reserve their position on the issue[11].

However, many European countries when signing or depositing its instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession, declare that it will prohibit tail docking. Considering that tail docking and ear cropping can be painful procedures and are banned in many European countries, they should not be performed for purely cosmetic reasons. In the Czech Republic, tail docking shall not be performed on dogs older than 8 days if there is no medical reason. Many European countries have also banned ear cropping as illegal. In Norway, Sweden, Cyprus, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Finland, Germany and parts of Australia tail docking is illegal, as well[12].


2) Korea

Domestic law does not ban any surgical operations for non-curative purposes. Article 11 of our Animal Protection Law states that surgery on animal such as castration, de-horning and tail docking must follow veterinary methods. As long as non-curative operations are followed by veterinary methods, they do not violate the law.

Procedures such as ear cropping, tail docking, debarking in dogs, or declawing in cats are unacceptable because the suffering and disfigurement they cause  not compensated by any benefits to the animal. If any such procedure can be shown to be necessary for medical or humane reasons, then it can be allowed. Canine “breed standards” must be altered to allow the animals to be exhibited without being surgically mutilated.

In addition, veterinarians should counsel and educate pet owners not to have these procedures performed unless medically necessary. Therefore, veterinarians who wish to be seen as caring professionals and guardians of animal welfare must stop cosmetic surgeries and actively oppose anyone continuing this painful practice. Our Animal Protection Law must be also changed to specifically include cosmetic ear cropping and tail docking as was done in the EU. The law cannot simply forbid these procedures by considering them as mistreatments, but it must sanction all misuses. In contrast to the EU, legislation in Korea designed to promote animal welfare does not specifically address this issue and ear cropping and tail docking are currently culturally acceptable, making it difficult to prosecute dog owners for subjecting their animals to these procedures.


  1. Prevention of Stray Animals

It is important to develop long-term, sustainable strategies to deal effectively with stray animal populations. This is essential not only to protect humans from coming into contact with those animals, but also to protect the health and welfare of the animals themselves. Experience shows that effective control involves the adoption of more than one approach[13].


1) Europe

In 70%(22 countries) of the EU member countries it is compulsory for dogs to either be licensed or registered[14]. However, this was considered ineffective in helping to reduce stray numbers in 15 of those countries because the law was neither enforced nor adhered to by owners. Consequently, unidentified stray dogs that were found could not be reunited with their owners. Three countries (10%) surveyed reported that they had no schemes in place, whilst the remaining six countries (20%) outlined voluntary schemes. It is important to note that, in countries where registration and licensing was rigorously enforced, this was considered an essential element in their successful stray dog control practices. Therefore compulsory registration without a commitment to effective enforcement is unlikely to result in owners complying with the regulations.


2) Korea

Ministry data showed some 100,800 animals were abandoned last year, about a fourfold increase from 25,200 in 2003. The government spent 10.2 billion won on housing and euthanizing stray animals. Registration of pet animals as according to Article 12 has been in practice since January 1 of 2013[15]. The government required owners to register all pet dogs with local authorities from 2013, in a move to reduce stray animals. Those failing to meet the regulation will face up to 1 million won ($865) in fines. Our government will begin with dogs because they make up the majority of strays. If the system is accepted, it may be expanded to include cats and other animals[16]. Abandonments and mistreatment of pet animals came to be more severely punished. This measure will bring about reduced abandonment of pet animals, and effectively track down lost animals.


  1. Conclusion

Western societies, where the concept of “ownership” predominates, require a comprehensive, coordinated and progressive program of owner education, environmental management, compulsory registration and identification, controlled reproduction of pets and the prevention of over production of pets through regulated breeding and selling. All of these elements should be underpinned by effective and enforced legislation. To implement these elements successfully requires the involvement of more than one agency,  and in turn is dependent upon the willingness of government departments, municipalities, veterinary agencies and non government organizations to work together.

How a society treats animal is the barometer that show how that society treats its minority. Mahatma Gandhi has stated that “the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”. Our Animal Protection Law needs reforming and refining to specifically address pet animal issues. We also have to pay more attention to animal welfare so that they are not unnecessarily put at risk.


The constitutional court of Korea, Decision of the Korean Constitutional court, The constitutional court of Korea (2001)

Kim Rhan, “Obligatory dog registration to begin in 2013”, The Korea Times







Today pet-raising population in Korea has enormously increased, numbering approximately 10 million. This phenomenon renders our society unprepared for manifold pet-animal issues. In this research, 3 most serious problems caused by increased pet population will mainly be discussed, along with how to improve our current animal protection law; animal transactions, regulations on proper accommodations for animals and obligatory registration of pets. To suggest solutions, animal welfare laws in European countries will be referred to. Only dogs will be subjected because of their large numbers in pet population.








  1. Louisa Tasker, World Society for the Protection of Animals, Stray Animal Control Practices (Europe) A report into the strategies for controlling stray dog and cat populations adopted in thirty-one countries.
  Pet Ownership Sale Legislation about Strays
Albania     O
Azerbaijan Republic   O  
Belarus O    
Belgium O O O
Bosnia- Herzegovina      
Bulgaria   O O
Croatia O O O
Czech Republic O O O
Denmark   O O
Estonia     O
Finland   O O
Germany O O O
Greece   O O
Hungary   O O
Ireland O O O
Italy O   O
Lithuania O O O
The Netherlands   O O
Poland     O
Portugal O O O
Serbia O O O
Slovenia   O O
Spain O O O
Switzerland O    
United Kingdom O O O

*Bold : member countries of the EU





[1] Korea’s Pet Market ‘ New Blue Ocean’, The Korea Times

[2] Nicholas K. Pedersen, European Animal Welfare Laws 2003 to Present: Explaining the Downturn.

[3] Freedom from hunger and thirst – access to fresh water and a diet for full health and vigor,

Freedom from discomfort – an appropriate environment with shelter and comfortable rest area,

Freedom from pain, injury and disease – prevention or rapid treatment,

Freedom to express normal behavior – adequate space and facilities, company or the animal’s own kind,

Freedom from fear and distress – conditions and treatment which avoid mental sufferings.

[4] supra note 2

[5] Signed and ratified : Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland

Signed but not yet ratified : France, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey,

[6] “Korea to slap tougher penalties on pet abusers”, The Korea Times.

[7] Louisa Tasker, World Society for the Protection of Animals, Stray Animal Control Practices (Europe) A report into the strategies for controlling stray dog and cat populations adopted in thirty-one countries.

[8] Article 8 – Trading, commercial breeding and boarding, animal sanctuaries

  1. Any person who, at the time of the entry into force of the Convention, is trading in or is commercially breeding or boarding pet animals or is operating an animal sanctuary shall, within an appropriate period to be determined by each Party, declare this to the competent authority. Any person who intends to engage in any of these activities shall declare this intention to the competent.

[9] supra note 7

[10] A comparison of laws preventing unnecessary canine cosmetic surgery in Italy and in the Czech Republic

Valeria Quartarone, Eva Voslářová, Maria Russo, Petra Doleželová, Annamaria Passantino

[11] Article 10 – Surgical operations

  1. Surgical operations for the purpose of modifying the appearance of a pet animal or for other non-curative purposes shall be prohibited and , in particular:
  2. the docking of tails;
  3. the cropping of ears;
  4. devocalization;
  5. declawing and defanging;
  6. Exceptions to these prohibitions shall be permitted only:
  7. if a veterinarian considers non-curative procedures necessary either for veterinary medical reasons or for the benefit of any particular animal;
  8. to prevent reproduction.
  9. Operations in which the animal will or is likely to experience severe pain shall be carried out under anesthesia only by a veterinarian or under his supervision.

Operations for which no anesthesia is required may be carried out by a person competent under national legislation.

[12] supra note 10

[13] WHO/WSPA, 1990; International Companion Animal Management Coalition, 2007

[14] supra note 7

[15] Article 12 Registration of Animals Subject to Registratioin(“ASR” hereafter) ① 등록대상동물의 소유자는 동물의 보호와 유실·유기방지 등을 위하여 시장·군수·구청장(자치구의 구청장을 말한다. 이하 같다)·특별자치시장(이하 “시장·군수·구청장”이라 한다)에게 등록대상동물을 등록하여야 한다. 다만, 농림축산식품부령으로 정하는 바에 따라 시·도의 조례로 정하는 지역은 제외한다. <개정 2013.3.23>

[시행일:2012.7.1] 12조제1항의 개정규정 중 특별자치시 및 특별자치시장에 관한 부분

[시행일:2013.1.1] 제12조(시장·군수·구청장과 관련된 부분은 제외한다)

[16] Kim Rhan, “Obligatory dog registration to begin in 2013”, The Korea Times

Posted in Spring 2014.