Recently in Korea, people tend to communicate and interact with animals, living together just like family. According to the “2020 Survey on Animal Protection” of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, 6.38 million households have 8.6 million companion pets. Previously, since more than 80% of companion pets are dogs, the cultures and industries of pets were mainly focused on dogs. However, in the last few years, our society has become familiar with companion cats through frequent exposure in various media. As a result, the number of them increased gradually from 1.9 million in 2015 to 2.58 million in 2020, increase of about 36% over five years. Consequently, the cultures and industries about companion cats are expanding rapidly. Through interviews with students who have companion cats, the Dongguk Post asked what they experienced and felt when taking care of a companion cat. In addition, we asked their opinions on whether Korean society has a good environment to take care of companion cats from the perspective of those who have them.
Choi Seo-yoon, 21-year-old
|Seo-yoon's cat, Huchu|
Kim So-hui, 21-year-old,
Ewha Womans University
|So-hui's cat, Suho|
Park Si-eun, 21-year-old
|Si-eun's cat, Gyeoul|
|Si-eun's cat, Bom|
Q. Please introduce yourself and your companion cats.
Seo-yoon: Hello, I am Choi Seo-yoon, living with my companion cat, Huchu. He came to my house in September 2020, and now he is one year and three months old. I live with my parents, but I am mainly responsible for taking care of our cat.
So-hui: Hello, I am Kim So-hui from Ewha Womans University. I live with a cat, Suho, with white fur and golden eyes. I have lived with him for three years.
Si-eun: I am Park Si-eun. My cat, Gyeoul, was born in November 2021, and the other cat, Bom, was born in April 2020. I live with my family, and my parents usually take care of them.
Q. What made you decide to live with your cat? Why did you decide to have a cat out of all the animals?
Seo-yoon: Actually, I did not have any interest in companion animals when I was young. However, when I was a high school student, I went to a “cat cafe,” and fell in love with cats. The pictures of cats in the SNS (Social Network Service) were so cute, too. One day, the cat of my father’s acquaintance bore kittens, and we decided to adopt Huchu all of a sudden.
So-hui: To be honest, the reason why our family adopted a cat was not that we loved animals. One day my mother told me, “We will adopt a cat because of your sister’s adolescence,” and Suho came to my house one day surprisingly, just like in a drama. I was ignorant of cats when I first met him.
Si-eun: When I was a high school student, I casually watched YouTube videos about cats and fell in love with them. I decided to adopt a cat since it is relatively independent with diet, bath, exercise and so on. In addition, I liked the point that it rarely barks at people.
Q. Were there any changes that occurred in your life before and after you met your cat?
Seo-yoon: Taking care of a cat is just like raising a baby, and my whole life routine has changed. I could have used all my time just as I wanted before Huchu came to the house. However, after he came, I had to feed him, play with him, clean his house and do everything on his time. Currently, the whole family’s matter of concern is him.
So-hui: Everything in my life had to change. It was harder than I thought.
Si-eun: I feel less lonely staying at home when there are Gyeoul and Bom with me. Before they came to my house, I usually spent time outside, hanging out with my friends. However, my cats made me enjoy staying at home. I was planning to leave my parents and live alone, but I just revised my plan to live with my family and cats.
Q. What did you learn from living with your cats?
Seo-yoon: I could learn responsibility. People can enjoy life in a way they want, and also, I have other daily parts without Huchu in my life. However, I realized that he fully leans on me during his whole life. I just want Huchu to live healthily and happily under my responsible care. I am learning how to give absolute love by taking care of him.
So-hui: I learned how to consider and communicate with animals. Specifically, I learned that animals can think and feel like humans do. Before I started to live with Suho, I did not have an interest in animals. However, I became interested in making animals happy now. I can hear his different voice and think, “Why is he doing like that?” “What does he want me to do?” and “Is he going to feel sad if I do or do not do something?” By realizing that he has his own likes and dislikes, I came to respect an animal as a being. Consequently, I am interested in animal rights, thus searching for many animal protection organizations. There are lots of cruel animal abuses and I want to protect them, too.
Si-eun: By living with cats, I learned that I should be more diligent to take care of lives. As I said before, I believed that cats are independent animals. I thought they could grow up well by themselves. Nevertheless, taking care of two cats was not as easy as I thought. It takes a lot of work like getting them haircut, washing them and so on.
Q. What were the difficulties of living with your cats?
Seo-yoon: When Huchu had just arrived at my house, it was very tough due to the changes in my daily life routine that I mentioned previously. I had to worry if he would be in some trouble all day long. Of course, it was physically so exhausting to take care of a living thing. Moreover, it is hard to leave him alone at home when the family has to go out these days.
So-hui: The most difficult thing is that I cannot talk to my cat. Although Suho meows something to me, I cannot always understand the meaning accurately. It is frustrating that I cannot know whether Suho is sick. Also, since he is a scaredy-cat, he gets stressed when he goes to the hospital. In these cases, I concern whether to watch his physical condition at home or take him to the animal hospital quickly for diagnosis and prescription. To add one more thing, the cost of veterinary hospital treatment and medicine is expensive. It costs about 80,000 to 100,000 won each time he visits hospitals. I think it is harder than people since animals cannot insure in common.
Si-eun: Leaving them alone at home and going out is the most anxious part. While some say that cats are fine to be left alone without protectors, I found that they search each room looking for our family. I feel sorry for them when I go out.
Q. Where do you usually get information about cats?
Seo-yoon: I usually search for information about cats on YouTube. There are some channels with veterinarians specialized in cat ethology that I can trust. Also, there is an Internet cafe for cat protectors. People usually ask and answer questions about their cats there.
So-hui: I find information about cats through various media. I watch veterinarians’ YouTube channels and the television program, “Take Care of My Cats.” I had recently read a book about a commentary on cat behavioral language. I am continuously trying to understand and respect Suho better.
Si-eun: If I have something to ask, I usually visit veterinarians and get information. I trust veterinarians the most since they are professionals. Also, I can easily get brief information by searching the Internet. Furthermore, as the time that I take care of cats got longer, I developed my own know-hows, and sometimes I decide the things on the level of common sense I know.
Q. Do you think that the present Korean society has a good environment to live with companion cats? What made you think that way?
Seo-yoon: Korean people have a good awareness of companion cats. Many people like cats and adore them. We also have various cat goods and foods. These days, there are several cat brands that are being managed by experts. Moreover, there are good medical facilities and systems for animals like 24-hour hospitals in Korea. So, I think we have an adequate environment to live with a cat in Korea.
So-hui: Well, it is not a poor condition. However, not that good either. The goods, foods and medical services for cats are expensive. For example, cat food costs about 30,000 won for two kilograms while rice for human costs 35,000 won for 10 kilograms. It is easy to visit medical facilities as many Korean people live with animals. However, my family privately distrust the services. Once, I heard my cat screaming inside the veterinarian’s office and saw him thrown away through a small window. His nail was bleeding when he came out. Of course, there are a lot of excellent veterinarians, but I became scared after such an unpleasant experience. I know that many people in Korea are trying to protect cats. There are many good television programs that are showing good aspects of living with companion cats. Nevertheless, I think we need more welfare systems, institutions and policies for companion cats, and moreover, for stray cats, too.
Si-eun: I think Korean society does not have that bad environment for companion cats. There are many medical facilities for animals, which are easy to visit. However, I feel their medical expenses are high since they do not have insurance. In addition, I do not think that our society has a good perception of companion cats. In my case, my father did not like cats before we adopted Gyeoul and Bom. I saw many of the senior generation that are not pleased with cats.
Q. Do you feel the need for a strengthened welfare system, medical services, or related education for cats like those for dogs?
Seo-yoon: I think it would be nice if there were regular lectures on companion cat protectors. I had many difficulties when I first adopted Huchu, and it was difficult to visit the veterinarian every single time, practically. Therefore, I want the lectures to invite veterinarians and cat protectors so that we can learn the fundamental knowledge and ask questions about cats.
So-hui: Yes, I feel we need a more strengthened welfare system. Medical services like animal insurance are also necessary since the medical costs for animals are so high in Korea.
Si-eun: Since cats do not like to go out of their area, there is no need for some facilities like a playground. However, it will be better to educate the protectors, giving them information about cats.
Q. If you have anything to say to people who are planning to have a companion cat, please do.
Seo-yoon: If one of my friends is considering about living with a companion cat, I will completely recommend it, and positively help him/her. However, I hope that everyone recognizes that it is much harder than they think. Many people will decide to adopt a cat just because it is cute, but we need to spend a lot of time, money and concern to take care of it. Nevertheless, the happiness that cats give us is much bigger than the difficulties, when we care for them responsibly. In addition, I hope people to adopt cats from other families or abandoned cats since I do not want cat commercialization.
So-hui: I want to tell people more about the difficulties of taking care of cats, hoping cats not be abandoned. Living with a cat is just like living with a two-year-old baby. I worry that some people would adopt a cat just for humans. In fact, Suho was about to be sent away as my sister suffers from asthma. I tried hard to make Suho stay in our house at that time. I also want to tell people to adopt abandoned cats or cats from households, not from pet shops. I hope that people study much about animals and decide to adopt, not just because they are cute.
Si-eun: Only the people who do not leave the home empty should adopt cats. Cats feel extremely lonely, and always need care. I want to recommend a cat adoption when someone is always at home and take care of cats.
Hwang Chae-yeon email@example.com
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