Korea on path to better treatment of abandoned animals

Korea on path to better treatment of abandoned animals

Canine residents of The Bom Center, an animal shelter in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, run by KARA, run around in the central garden, Sept. 9. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

By Lee Hae-rin

Only about one out of 10 pets in Korea are lucky enough to live with their companions until they die, says Korean Animal Welfare Association. The unfortunate others end up as strays.

That amounts to 130,000 abandoned animals each year, according to Korea’s Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency. About half of them make it to shelters, where a quarter are euthanized due to a lack of resources. More than 27,100 cats and dogs were put down in 2020 alone, but shelters remain more overcrowded than ever before.

In an effort to end this vicious cycle, The Bom Center was founded in November 2020 in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, by Korea Animal Rights Advocates (KARA), which is one of better-known animal protection civic groups here. It aims to be the Korean version of Tierheim, the name for the animal protection centers in Germany known for their advanced and animal-friendly facilities.

With “Bom” meaning “to look into” and “to care for” in Korean, the country’s most advanced and modern shelter is setting an example for how the rescue shelter industry needs to be developed and why professionalism is required to meet the needs of rescued animals.

Korea on path to better treatment of abandoned animals

The Bom Center, a shelter for abandoned animals founded by KARA, is seen in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, Sept. 9. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

The Bom’s 190 animal residents come from similar backgrounds to those in any other rescue shelters ― slaughterhouses, puppy or kitten mills, animal hoarders, mountains and streets. However, the facility and its residents do not conform to the stereotype of an ordinary shelter or abandoned animals.

Such a difference is made by the unique and functional design of the center, which ensures its animal residents can maintain their natural patterns of behavior. “As the main residents of the building are dogs and cats, the design began with the understanding of their habits and behavior patterns,” architects from PLAT/FORM architects, which designed and built the facility, were quoted as saying in a book introducing the center.

Korea on path to better treatment of abandoned animals

A KARA activist exercises a dog on the walking path of The Bom Center in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, Sept. 9. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

The rooms for dogs and cats are physically separated and animals of similar size and health condition share a room that is bigger than the government-set standards per animal. All rooms are sound-proof, ventilated and controlled at an optimum room temperature.

Besides the rooms, the facility has two stories aboveground and one underground level and also has an animal hospital, training area, garden and walking paths.

Korea on path to better treatment of abandoned animals

Marlone, a dog rescued from a puppy mill in 2020, plays with a KARA activist at the central garden of The Bom Center, Paju, Gyeonggi Province, Sept. 9. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Korea on path to better treatment of abandoned animals

Gyeowool, above, and Agi rest on a cat tower by a window at The Bom Center in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, Sept. 9. Anti-collision stickers are put on every window of the shelter to prevent bird strikes. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

“In the afternoon, the dogs enjoy the breeze and play with a ball or frisbee in the garden. The cats sunbathe in a silent room by the windows. Here, we try our best to provide our animal residents with what they need to heal their bodies and minds,” a KARA activist said.

The center is also equipped with a specialized team that provides optimum one-on-one care to all animals. Every animal is called by its name and given enough food, fresh water and a safe room of its own that is cleaned every morning. The center also regularly examines and provides medical care to them, helping them recover from trauma and injury.

Korea on path to better treatment of abandoned animals

A KARA activist cleans the dog room, while its canine residents wait outside in the terrace at The Bom Center in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, Sept. 9. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Korea on path to better treatment of abandoned animals

A KARA activist cleans the cat rooms and fills the bowls with fresh water, while a cat stands on pet furniture at The Bom Center in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, Sept. 9. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Thanks to such efforts, The Bom’s animals are easily rehomed and leave the facility relatively soon after arrival. More than 250 animals have found new families here and abroad since last November. The biggest obstacle to running a rescue shelter in Korea is the maintenance of its animal population, according to the latest report by the APQA.

“The key to sustainable shelter management is the maintenance of the population of rescued animals via rehoming. Most shelters in Korea practice euthanasia because they lack resources to rehome animals, while more rescued animals keep flooding in. With more focus and investment on the animals’ recovery, we can create a virtuous cycle of ‘rescuing to rehoming,'” said Sohn So-young, chief of the animal care team.

It was not easy, financially, to open the center. KARA managed to buy the site and build the facilities after receiving a donation from companies and individual members, but it is still in a considerable amount of debt, according to its staff.

Korea on path to better treatment of abandoned animals

The name cards of rehomed former residents of The Bom Center are posted on the wall of the center in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, Sept. 9. Some of the handwritten messages of KARA activists read, “I love you,” and “Super big and super cute.” Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

“We want to change how people imagine animal shelters and rescued animals ― desperate, dirty, ill-tempered, and behind steel bars. The Bom is a place of joy and hope, where you want to come over any time and make new animal friends. This is our way of fighting prejudice against abandoned animals and ushering in a mature animal protection culture,” said Park Ah-reum, the chief of the center management team.

The best part about the facility, according to people who have visited the shelter, is the encounters with animals. “The experience of building an intimacy with animals at The Bom Center completely changed my thoughts on companion animals and rehoming of rescued animals,” read a remark by one visitor who took part in KARA’s survey following the opening of the facility.

Korea on path to better treatment of abandoned animals

Laika, a dog rescued from a slaughterhouse in July, plays fetch with a KARA activist at The Bom Center in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, Sept. 9. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

The Bom is not the only such shelter here. The ON center has been run by the Korean Animal Welfare Association in Namyangju, Gyeonggi Province, and there is a cat shelter scheduled to open at the end of 2021 in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province. They are or will be run as no-kill shelters.

The Bom, as a Korean prototype of a sustainable and professional animal facility, has become a model for several municipalities planning to build similar shelters, such as Hongcheon County in Gangwon Province and Pyeongtaek in Gyeonggi Province. Government officials from the regions visit to experience the center’s professional management and its efforts to grow a symbiotic relationship with the local community.

“Germany’s Tierheim, which was The Bom’s model, is located centrally in a developed area and exists in harmony with its surroundings, unlike in Korea where shelters are unwelcome and draw complaints from residents. We hope that one day, animal shelters are accepted as part of society, and animals are no longer bought and sold, but respected as fellow living beings,” Sohn said.

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