Korean Law Demystified!

Animal Law in Korea


During the 2002 (Salt Lake City) Winter Olympics, American comedian Jay Leno told the following joke on television:

The Korean speed skater (Kim Dong-sung) was so mad, he went home, kicked his dog, and ate it…”

Kim had just been disqualified and stripped of a gold medal which in turn went to American speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno.

What are the legal implications for kicking or eating one’s dog?

In Korea, the person would most likely get into trouble for the cruelty, but maybe not so much for the consumption.

Below are a few tidbits about animal law in Korea.

I. The Crime of “Cruelty to Animals” (동물학대)

The Animal Protection Act (동물보호법) prohibits/punishes cruelty to animals. “Animals” refers to vertebrates such as cattle, horses, pigs, dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, ducks, goats, sheep, deer, foxes, and mink.

Article 8 of the Animal Protection Act specifically prohibits the following acts:

1. Killing an animal:

   1) By hanging it by the neck, or

   2) On the street, in a place open to the public, or in front of the animal’s own species, or

   3) Without a justifiable ground as specified by the relevant laws/regulations.

2. Engaging in cruelty:

   1) By inflicting injury upon an animal with a tool or drug, or

   2) By hurting the body of a live animal, collecting the bodily fluid from a live animal, or installing a device for such a purpose, or

   3) By inflicting injury upon an animal for the purpose of gambling, advertising, amusement, or entertainment, or

   4) By inflicting injury upon animal without a justifiable ground as specified by the relevant laws/regulations.

   ※ Subparagraphs 1), 2), and 3) do not apply in cases where such act is permitted under relevant laws/regulations.

3. With regard to stray or abused animals:

   1) Catching, selling, killing such animals, or

   2) Knowingly brokering the trade of such animals.

4. Abandonment of an animal by its owner or keeper.

5. Selling, exhibiting, delivering, showing, or posting on the internet any material relating to any of the above acts under paragraphs 1-3. ※ This does not apply to cases where such act is permitted under relevant laws/regulations (e.g., for educational purposes).

Articles 46 and 47 of the Animal Protection Act outlines the following punishments for the above acts:

1. The punishment for paragraphs 1-3 is imprisonment for not more than one year or a criminal fine (벌금) of not exceeding ten million won.

2. The punishment for paragraph 4 is an administrative fine (과태료) of not exceeding one million won.

3. The punishment for paragraph 5 is a criminal fine (벌금) of not exceeding three million won.

II. Case Studies

1. The “Devil Equus” Incident (악마 에쿠스 사건)

In April 2012, someone posted on the internet a short video clip of a dog tied back to a sedan, being dragged on the highway. The video quickly spread online. Right away, a Korean animal rights’ activist group filed a criminal complaint against the owner of the car/dog. The owner of the car (a Hyundai Equus) and the dog (a Beagle) was a man in his 40s. On the night of the video, he was traveling from Yongin to Seoul, along the Seoul-Busan Expressway. After investigation, the man was ultimately not charged with any crime. Many people wondered why not?

Articles 8, 46, and 47 of the Animal Protection Act prohibit/punish only “crimes of intent.” In Korean criminal law, a person can be punished for a “crime of negligence” only if/when the law specifically outlines such a crime. There is currently no law in Korea that punishes criminal negligence perpetrated against an animal. According to reports, the owner of the Beagle stated that he had placed the dog in the trunk because the dog’s feet smelled of manure, and he did not want to dirty the inside of his car. The man also said he had deliberately left trunk open because he feared the dog would suffocate. The man asserted he had no idea the dog had jumped out of the trunk (and was being dragged). In his mind, the man had made sure the dog could not jump out of the trunk.

A “crime of intent” also includes intent in the form of dolus eventualis (미필적 고의). Dolus eventualis refers to a form of intent where the perpetrator objectively foresees the possibility of his or her act causing death and yet persists regardless of the consequences. (i.e., He/she was essentially “okay” with it = “I can live with that!”) This can be inferred from the perpetrator’s conduct in the light of the surrounding circumstances. Here, the authorities felt the owner may have been negligent, but the circumstances fell short of implying he was “okay” with the dog being dragged to death. Above is a news report of the incident.

Article 9 of the Animal Protection Act does prohibit certain negligent behavior with regard to the transportation of animals. This article, however, applies only to “work-related” transportation of animals. It would not apply to the case here.

2. The “Cat Abuser Woman” Incident (고양이 학대녀 사건)

One night in June 2010, a woman was returning home drunk. On the tenth floor of her apartment building, the woman comes across a cat. For no apparent reason, she starts kicking the cat with her heels. She then takes the cat back to her home. At home, the cat scratches the woman’s hand, and she throws the cat out of her apartment window. The next day, the cat is found dead. The apartment CCTV soon reveals the woman kicking the cat. (Above is the CCTV footage.) The woman tries apologizing to the owner, but the owner refuses to accept her apology. The woman is now angry, and hits/slaps the owner in the face. What is the woman guilty of, and was she punished?

The woman was eventually sentenced to four years in prison, but avoided actual prison time (two years probation). She was found guilty of “Cruelty to Animals,” pokhaeng, and “Destruction and Damage of Property” (재물손괴) under the Criminal Act (형법).

Interestingly, when cruelty is perpetrated upon an animal owned by another person, it also constitutes the crime of “Destruction and Damage of Property.” The punishment for this crime is imprisonment for not more than three years or a (criminal) fine not exceeding seven million won. But, in order to constitute this crime, a person has to damage the property of another person.

3. Recent Cases

In September 2013, the Incheon District Court sentenced a man to ten months in prison (two years probation) for having beaten a neighbor’s dog to death. According to reports, the man killed the dog because he felt the dog was constantly barking too loud.

In October 2013, the Suwon District Court acquitted a man after he killed a neighbor’s Rottweiler with a chainsaw. In the court’s view, the man was acting in self-defense. (Note: On February 11, 2014, the appellate court overturned this decision by finding the defendant guilty of “Destruction and Damage of Property” under the Criminal Act.)

In Korea, defendants who are found guilty of “Cruelty to Animals” usually receive a criminal fine (벌금). If worse comes to worst, he/she could be sentenced to prison but will most likely receive probation (집행유예). “Probation” means no actual prison time.

III. Owner/Possessor Liability

If an animal unlawfully harms/kills a person, the owner/possessor (of such animal) could potentially face both criminal and tort liability.

1. Criminal Liability

The owner could face criminal liability under Articles 266 to 268 of the Criminal Act. These crimes include “Bodily Injury by Negligence,” (과실치상) “Death by Negligence,” (과실치사) or “Bodily Injury or Death by Occupational/Gross Negligence” (업무상/중과실치사상).

In 2008, the Supreme Court of Korea found a man guilty of “Bodily Injury by Negligence” after his cat suddenly attacked a passerby in front of a shop owned by the man (Supreme Court Decision of March 27, 2008, 2008Do736). The cat first attacked the dog that was accompanying the passerby. As the passerby tried to shield his dog, the cat attacked the passerby instead. The passerby had to receive medical treatment for two weeks. In the Court’s view, the owner of the shop/cat failed to take the necessary precautionary measures. The Court ultimately fined the defendant one million won.

2. Civil/Tort Liability

The owner could face tort liability under Articles 750 and 759 of the Civil Act (민법). Article 750 outlines general tort liability (불법행위의 내용) while Article 759 outlines tort liability for possessor of animals (동물의 점유자의 책임).

In 2011, a district court found the owner of a Korean Jindo Dog liable for bodily injury perpetrated by the dog (Suwon District Court Decision of August 10, 2011, 2010Gadan79721). As the plaintiff was lawfully entering the defendant’s home, the dog suddenly attacked and bit the plaintiff in several different places. The plaintiff suffered bodily injury which required three weeks of medical treatment. In the court’s view, the owner of the dog failed to take the necessary precautionary measures. The defendant was ordered to pay almost five million won in damages. In deciding damages, Korean courts normally take into account: 1) The state/type of the animal, 2) The surrounding circumstances, 3) The severity of the injury, and 4) Whether the defendant was also at fault (i.e., contributory negligence).

IV. Other Issues: Administrative Fines

1. Pet Leash & Waste: In most parks, pet owners are required to have their pets on a leash and to pick/clean up pet waste. In Seoul, a person could face an administrative fine of KRW 50,000 for bringing a pet without a leash and KRW 70,000 for not picking/cleaning up pet waste. These and other fines first came into effect in November 2007.

2. Pet Registration: Since 2013, pet owners who live in a city with a population of 100,000 (or more) are required to register their pets. The maximum administrative fine for violation is KRW 400,000. To learn more about Korea’s Animal Protection Management System, click here. Below is a related news report.

3. Dead Pets: There are three ways to deal with dead pets: 1) Take it to a vet, 2) Have it cremated at a crematory, or 3) Dispose of it via a standardized waste bag. Disposing of one’s dead pet via a standardized waste bag does not violate any law. But, what could be illegal is burying a dead pet just anywhere. Such a person could face a fine under Article 1.16 of the Punishment of Minor Offenses Act (경범죄처벌법). The maximum administrative fine is KRW 100,000. Such a person could also face a fine under the Wastes Control Act (폐기물관리법). Under Korean law, dead animals are classified as “wastes” (폐기물).

4. Pet Seat Belts: There is currently talk of amending the Road Traffic Act (도로교통법) to require drivers to buckle up their pets while driving. The maximum administrative fine for violation would be KRW 50,000. The current law only prohibits driving while simultaneously holding an infant or a pet.

At the top of this post are photos of friends’ pets.

Thanks for reading!

%d bloggers like this: