“Purpose of a Pet” Obstacle to Banning Illegal Animal Sales

Cats in a cage

On 28th June this year, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA) responded to the question of whether dog sellers in traditional markets such as the traditional 5-day-market in Damyang, South Jeolla Province should be formally registered as animal traders. The Ministry, while acknowledging that such sellers are “not seemingly exempt from the obligation to be registered,” went on to state that “each regional authority should make rational decisions whether the animals sold are pets that are the subjects of animal trade registration.” This amounts to an authoritative interpretation of the law.

Regarding allowing local authorities to make their own decisions, we cannot help but express the deepest regret on what can only be described as a perfunctory and irresponsible interpretation. Local authorities will now make passive decisions, allowed by the preceding authoritative interpretation, meaning that if the seller and owner of an animal asserts that their animal does not serve the purpose of a pet, they are freed from the boundaries of the law.

“The purpose of a pet” was a concept adopted by MAFRA in 2008 along with its animal registration system, amidst protestations from animal rights groups. The term is now found in the Animal Protection Act, as well as animal registration and sales laws. But there is no clear and specific definition of “the purpose of a pet” offered by MAFRA.

Earlier this year, we requested that measures be taken against the owner of dogs tied down in an empty field on very short leashes, as this was in breach of Animal Protection Act. The owner, however, argued that those dogs were kept with the objective of watching over the field, and not to serve the purpose of pets. The local authorities, with the same reasoning, declared that no measures could be taken. We took the question as to whether these dogs were pets or not to MAFRA, but received no answer.

Animal protection law is there to protect all animals, and is not restricted to pets. We have to wonder at the underlying intentions of the restrictions of protecting only animals serving “the purpose of a pet.”

MAFRA also states that unregistered pets will be their focus of control from September 2019. But the obligation to register is also restricted to dogs kept in residences and semi-residences and serving the purpose of a pet. This exempts dog farmers from their responsibility to register their animals.

It is our guess that dog meat interest groups have acted and are working to define into existence differences between pet dogs and dogs for meat. But there is no difference between the two ‘categories’ of dog, contrary to what dog meat interest groups argue. We have seen dogs usually considered pets—such as Malteses, Poodles and Malamutes—raised as meat dogs, and Jindos and Tosas kept as pet dogs.

Through MAFRA’s interpretation it has become impossible to deem outdoor dog sales in markets illegal, and penalties can easily be avoided. Other types of dog sellers may take advantage of the loophole, which spells trouble ahead. Any good intention behind the law will likely lose meaning and the law itself may turn out to be inapplicable.

We strongly call for the clause “serving the purpose of pets” to be deleted, as it is interpreted differently by everyone to their own advantage. Only then will the intention behind these laws to ban illegal sales of animals be served properly, and further the cause of reducing animal abuse.

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