As a pet owner in South Korea , I’ve been paying increasing attention to the wonderful world of dogs. Recently, I’ve noticed more and more Seoulites taking leisurely strolls with diverse dogs ranging from tiny white chihuahuas to giant golden retrievers half my size compared to a few years ago.
Apparently, I am but one among many South Koreans fawning over these lovely creatures. According to research firm Euromonitor, almost one in five South Koreans owned a cat or dog in 2017. And they’re spending plenty on their furry friends too: A July 2017 report by Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade (KIET) forecast that the domestic pet care industry would grow to 5.8 trillion won by 2020, an increase of some 640 percent since 2012.
Meanwhile, most South Korean broadcasters run pet-related shows such as “There’s No Such Thing As a Bad Dog” and “TV Animal Farm”– the latter was the 16th most watched show in South Korea in the third week of February 2018, clocking a 10 percent viewer share.
Tapping into South Koreans’ growing love of pets are a variety of innovative startups. Exploiting the country’s high mobile penetration rate and Internet-savvy population, the new businesses provide services ranging from pet-sitting to pet transportation to and even pet funerals. Below is an introduction to some of the pioneers of the growing pet care industry.
Petner is a pet-sitting service launched by former veterinarian Choi Galim that matches pet-sitters with owners via website. Eligible pets include dogs, cats, birds and reptiles. Petner allows only veterinary students and current vets to register as pet-sitters. The company’s three main services are house sitting, pet boarding and dog walking. House-sitting is a call-out service in which the sitter babysits the pet at the client’s home, giving daily meals, cleaning up and walking the pet. Pet boarding allows the client to bring the pet to the sitter’s house to be taken care of for the required time period. Petner offers health check-up, regular photo and video updates, and 24-hour emergency hotline service in the package.
Petdolbom is like an Airbnb service for pets, allowing pet-owners to leave their cats and dogs at the sitter’s home or their own house. The service is only available in Seoul, surrounding Gyeonggi Province and Incheon.
On each user’s profile is a calendar showing available dates, approximate location and photos of the sitter’s house, user reviews, and a personal introduction written by the sitter. Sitters provide customized services such as regular photo updates, (pricey) imported dog snacks, dog-walking, pet portrait photography and even puppy and kitten delivery.
Pet sitters are ranked according to a three-tier badge system — Grade 1 sitters have taken offline seminars and or online classes; those of Grade 2 have relevant qualifications such as pet caretaker certification from Korea Companion Animal Management Association and those of Grade 3 boast good cumulative user reviews. No commission fee is charged to either users or hosts, and there’s even an option on the website for pet owners to report inadequate sitters.
Mobile app Petdoc provides a real time health Q&A service from veterinarians. Pet owners can also use it to find nearby or specialist animal hospitals via a GPS location service, while the app also offers basic information about dogs, cats, hamsters, rabbits and hedgehogs. The platform also provides information about pet adoption and funeral services.
Pet Me Up is a taxi service for pets. Most taxis in Seoul are mid-sized Hyundai Sonata sedans, making many pet owners reluctant to ride them with big pets. They also face the possibility of being denied a ride. Pet owners can book a ride with Pet Me Up by calling 02-1522-7075 sending a Kakao Talk message (ID: petmeup) or making a reservation via the company website. After specifying a few details such as destination and type of pet, users receive a confirmation message, followed by a phone call before the trip.
Paw in Hand focuses on abandoned and missing pets. Its website provides real-time data about abandoned pets — rescued, adopted and euthanized — according to date and region. (A pie chart on the website shows that from January to February 21st, 2018, 27.2 percent of abandoned pets found new homes and 17.8 percent were euthanized). The app allows users to register and find missing pets, share stories about adopted pets in forums, and browse photos and information about pets in animal shelters.
Euromonitor predicted that South Korea’s rapidly spreading culture of regarding dogs and cats as family members would continue until at least 2022, sustaining the pet care industry’s current growth.
KIET’s 2017 report claimed that the country’s growing pet ownership was driven by “an increasing number of single households, low birthrate and aging population.”
Cover image: Juwon Park’s dog, Noah (Juwon Park/Korea Exposé)