Han Il Gwan is a traditional Korean restaurant with a history of 70 years. It has stayed in the same place from 1939 to this day. Sadly, the owner of the restaurant recently died after suffering from blood poisoning caused by a dog bite. The food that was a welcome break from a busy routine for so many people will never be served again for all the money in the world.
On September 30, Kim Yi Sook, the owner of Han Il Gwan, died of blood poisoning after being bitten by a pet dog. The dog belonged to Choi Si Won, a member of renowned K-Pop boy band Super Junior, who enjoyed immense popularity in the 2000s and still has a substantial influence in the entertainment industry. The incident was followed by immediate outcry from the public against Choi for not handling his dog properly.
More importantly, the controversy stems from whether the dog and its owner should be prosecuted. There is a general consensus that the bite was the cause of the owner’s death since there would have been no infection in the first place had the dog been under a close watch. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), six percent of dog bites get infected by the germs that lead to blood poisoning. The percentage may seem small, but skeptics put forth the logic that a dog bite basically is no different than stabbing a person by accident with a dirty knife.
▲ Provided by Korea Consumer Agency
The gravity of this incident is heavier than many may think. This particular case begs the question whether animal rights can be prioritized over human rights. The clamor to euthanize the dog can essentially be boiled down to whether the severity of the damage the victim suffered outweighs the dog’s ignorant innocence.
The Concept of Animal Rights
Rather than getting bogged down with the minute details, it is necessary to broaden the scope to discuss the larger animal rights issue. Merriam Webster defines animal rights as “rights (as to fair and humane treatment) regarded as belonging fundamentally to all animals.” On the other hand, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), a non-governmental organization on the forefront of advocating animal rights, provides a more specific concept. According to PETA, “animal rights means that animals deserve certain kinds of consideration—consideration of what is in their best interests, regardless of whether they are ‘cute,’ useful to humans, or an endangered species.” PETA essentially goes against the notion that animals are to be used by humans, be it for food, clothing, or experimentation.
Carefully observing this definition, it is noticeable that PETA stressed the word “consideration” heavily, supporting the idea of considering animals as another living being, and an entity equal to that of a human. That is the basis of its criticism of caged birds, catch-and-release fishing, chaining and crating dogs, declawing cats, and many more common occurrences. From the perspective of PETA, any act of confining animals cannot be tolerated. Granted, it does state on its website, “[We] very much love the animal companions who share our homes, but we believe that it would have been in the animals’ best interests if the institution of ‘pet keeping’—i.e., breeding animals to be kept and regarded as ‘pets’—never existed.”
PETA’s stance is consistent in that it opposes the concept of keeping pets in the first place. The real problem of the current issue stems from the discrepancy between the extreme logic of animal rights skeptics and advocates of animal rights that eventually end up being mixed in a grey area. Skeptics of animal rights view pet owning as generally okay, and keeping them leashed is okay as well. Advocates believe that, although a person has tragically passed, animals do not possess the same level of intelligence as humans, so they cannot be held accountable. The entire controversy comes down to a dispute over one fundamental question: Are humans equal to animals?
Animal Rights, or Mere Property?
▲ PHOTOGRAPHED BY CHO EUN BYUL. Professor Hong Young Ki
Then what premise should be applied to both sides to reach a feasible compromise? Professor Hong Young Ki (College of Law) provided his insight on this issue stating, “Animal rights should be considered as an extension of human rights.” He went on to say that the relationship between animals and humans is a product of the development of human history and culture. He pointed out that animal rights became controversial as people started to separate pets from other animals. In the most fundamentalist view, those who consume products that involve any kind of animal testing or killing while claiming protection of their pets’ rights are being self-contradictory.
“It all comes down to perspective,” says Professor Hong. In the current discourse, it seems that the issue of dogs having to be on a leash should not be seen through the scope of animals versus humans, but ultimately the scope of humans versus humans. Certain animals will be seen as more valuable to one person while less so to another. Therefore, speaking from a strictly legal perspective, it is difficult to interfere with other people’s property, which in this case refers to pets.
However, the current situation revolving around the death of Kim Yi Sook of *Han Il Gwan* could spark debate about whether pets should be on a leash or at least wear protective gear, such as muzzles, for the safety of the public. The current administration did officially bring up the issue in a statement regarding legislation that makes wearing protective gear mandatory as of November 11. There will be conflicting views during the process of passing this legislation, and currently nothing has been decided.
It is essential to keep in mind that it is humans who are debating this issue and passing laws, not animals. As long as people are consuming any type of product that sacrifices animals through any means, the value of animal life, as disturbing it may be, cannot be brought into consideration for future settlements. This issue is a conflict between the value of property and the value of safety, not the “consideration” that PETA stands for. Frankly, it is paradoxical to talk about how animals can be our friends while eating steak for dinner.