Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Cats & Dogs

As we are now leaving Korea in May, and Korean Father is still looking after his father down in Namhae on a full-time basis, we thought about getting a dog for Korean Mother to keep her company after we've gone. As it happened we knew of someone with a puppy which long working hours meant they were no longer able to take care of, so we went to have a look one Saturday evening three weeks ago.

I don't know how things are generally done in Korea, but having grown up with dogs I was taken aback to discover the puppy had been separated from its mother after only fifteen days. It wasn't to be our last surprise, and half-an-hour later we unexpectedly walked out with Max, or to give him his somewhat more annoying and previously given Korean title, 'Maegseu (맥스)' (I have real problems making Korean 'eu' sounds properly as it's not something we have in English). Fortunately, while Korean Mother has never had a pet before, and had to cope with an idea becoming a suddenly unexpected reality, she took to him immediately, and more fortunately for him, he took to her. Even the initial meeting with Korean Father went well, although he quickly established the ground rules with the words 'you don't know me yet, but I'm very scary, so behave', which as a former Korean marine, he certainly is.

Like most other amenities in the crowded city of Busan, a veterinary practice was not hard to find - there are four that I know of within 100 meters, and unlike the vets back in the UK, it almost went without question that they would be open on Sunday. The 'Animal Clinc' (sic) nearest us even operate a 'pet hotel' (i.e. kennel), which solves that potential problem, even if they're not as fancy as one we found on the Internet in Seoul, which has web-cams in each of the cages so that owners - and anyone else for that matter - can check on their pets from afar.

Our dog, which at this point was five months old, was not house trained (he'd been kept in a porch), so aside from frequent visits to the vet in the last three weeks we've had the dubious pleasure of teaching him not to randomly soil the apartment. But this revealed another crucial cultural difference - in a house when our dogs want to relieve themselves we let them go outside. What exactly do you do fifteen stories up in an apartment block - especially one with an elevator which can sometimes take five minutes to arrive? The answer is some kind of toilet pad which is placed in the bathroom, and which theoretically you teach your dog to use. I guess it beats chasing after your dog with a scoop and a bag, but I still think the idea will take some getting used to.

There's a certain type of dog in Korea, possibly the most common type, that I think are best generically described as 'ajumma fashion accessories'. You see them on the street, but they are never walking, but rather being carried by their invariably older female owner. It's possible that many people here are first-generation dog lovers who haven't quite accepted the notion of a potentially dirty dog coming into their living space - so carrying, and keeping their feet and fur away from the dirty ground, is the unique solution to this quandary. A related consequence of the fashion and hygiene issue is the way in which such pets are not only highly groomed, but end up with quite stylised hair-cuts into the bargain. Unfortunately, when Maegseu's nerves had calmed down after a week of care, the vet deemed him sufficiently able to handle going under the razor - and what came out of the other side of the process was like a whole new dog.

But if every small ajumma-dog looks like it's about to be entered into a show, maybe the cats don't get off much easier either, if this one spotted in the vet's is anything to go by:


Mosher said...

You can't shave a schitzu! You lose all the fun in brushing it, and trimming the hair and tying it back in a ponytail.

As my mother...

Mike said...


I'm told he's a cross between a Shih Tzu and something else. I think he inherited the Shih Tzu temperament...

I'm not completely convinced about the hair either.

Anonymous said...

We (including the dogs) are totally befuddled by your new pal's hair cut. MUCH preferred him in his 'before' pic. However, he's a proper sweet thing, isn't he. Still slush puppies here! Needless to say, Jazz left the room when she saw the cat's funky tail-do, just in case I got any ideas.

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