January 23, 2016 08:10
Over 10 million people live with pets in Korea now, and for many their pets are now "life companions" who require every moment of their attention. Doting owners spend huge amounts of money on top-range pet food, treats and clothes and even throw birthday parties for their pets.
Some luxury pet products boggle the imagination. Korea Ginseng Corporation has launched a dog food made with ginseng extract. It contains red ginseng left over after the product sold to humans has been boiled. The company managed to sell 10,000 boxes in just three months.
Snacks made with Korean-bred beef, dog pizza, cakes, and even ice cream have been launched. There is a wide variety of clothing for pets as well, including aviation jumpers, traditional Korean hanbok, and tutus. Some owners make their pets wear clothes that match their own.
Social media are full of photos of cats and dogs wearing a party hat in front of a birthday cake with their name written on it, cookies with their initials, and drinks.
The cakes are specially made for pets using pumpkin, salmon or sweet potato and cost about W20,000 (US$1=W1,200). The whole party kit can set an owner back W50,000. Im Go-eun, who runs a pet dog cafe, said, "We hold birthday parties for dogs just like we would for our family and friends."
According to a report by the Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency last year, 21.8 percent of households in Korea have a pet. The number of households with cats rose 63.7 percent in just three years because they are easier to keep in enclosed spaces.
The worth of the pet market exceeded W1.8 trillion last year, and is expected to grow to W6 trillion by 2020.
"Greater individualism has led to more and more people seeking companionship in pets to alleviate their loneliness. Just as mothers bond with other mothers by sharing information on child rearing, pet owners also form relationships with each other by sharing tips," said Kim Hye-sook, a professor at Ajou University.
Some feel things are going too far. Jeong Hye-young (51) has two dogs but takes a robust approach. "I love dogs, but I'd rather spend money helping children in need in Africa than spending a lot on my pets. I think expensive clothes and birthday parties for pets are ridiculous."
Lee Chan-hyeok (33) works in an office and sees the pet craze as a sign of the times. "Now that it is so difficult to get married and have kids, people seem to give their affection to pets. It's a sad reality in a recession."
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