On the 20th of October, JTBC reported the unfortunate death of renowned Korean restaurant Han-il-gwan’s CEO Mrs. Kim. The death was caused by a ferocious bite (on the 30th of September) from a dog, which afterwards happened to be “Bugsy”, the pet dog of Idol Group Super Junior’s member Choi Si-won. Despite the seriousness of the issue that has quickly spread throughout media, Choi Si-won’s father, Choi Ki-ho uploaded a belated and frustratingly ambiguous apology on Instagram. What made the matter even more controversial was the fact that only a 50,000 won fine was imposed due to the limitations of current law, although this was an obvious “murder” case. The outrageous results triggered disputes over the handling of Bugsy, whether euthanasia is proper or not, and even led to a Cheongwadae petition for the legislation of the “Choi Si-won Special Law”.
Unleashed Bugsy Bites an Innocent Neighbor
Bugsy, an adorable French bulldog smaller than that of the original species, still seems to have inherited the aggressiveness of its ancestors. In fact, Bugsy was well-known among neighbors for having bitten them often, and was receiving lessons every once a week for behavioral problems. The victim of this murder case, Mrs. Kim, even had her clothes ripped by Bugsy in the past.Maybe education simply failed to put a curb on the aggressiveness of Bugsy, as it drove a painful bite into its innocent neighbor as always. Mrs. Kim returned home after receiving medical treatment at the hospital, but still it wasn’t that her injury was unusually severe. However, on the 5th of October, Mrs. Kim suddenly ached from fatigue, and the next day her illness aggravated until she finally had to be hospitalized in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Shockingly, Mrs. Kim met her death not too many hours after, at 5 p.m. (The cause of death was confirmed as septicemia, a disease often developed as complications from bacterial infection.) At the time of the accident, Bugsy wasn’t leashed, although accompanied by its owner.
Where Did Septicemia Sprout From?
After the death of Han-il-gwan CEO Mrs. Kim was publicized, and after the shocking fact that Bugsy’s owner was none other than the popular Idol Choi Si-won was revealed, his father Choi Ki-ho posted an official apology using his daughter’s Instagram account. In this apology, there is a sentence that heated up controversy among the public. It was, “It is currently difficult to confirm the accurate cause of Kim’s death, since possibilities of secondary infection during treatment processes at the hospital cannot be excluded.” Many netizens focused on this single sentence, harshly criticizing the writer’s evasive attitude towards what should be considered as his own dire responsibility. But although the sentence might not have been appropriate in the status quo, in this part, the absence of decisive results or media coverage on the cause of Kim’s death could have played a huge role as well.
Four days after Mrs. Kim’s death, her blood test detected “aeruginosa.” Eventually, the cause was confirmed as “septicemia development from the infection of aeruginosa.” The problem is, since Mrs. Kim’s body has already been cremated according to the decision of her family members, it became difficult to verify the accurate process of aeruginosa infection. At this point, the 8 o’clock news of SBS reported an analysis of the case, asserting the infection of aeruginosa occurred at the hospital. According to the analysis, there were only six precedent cases of aeruginosa infection from dog bites worldwide. Thus, the possibility of direct infection from Bugsy’s bite was nearly zero. In addition, SBS criticized the hospital for failing to clarify on the specifics of Mrs. Kim’s medical treatment even though it was possible that a “tolerant” aeruginosa virus (often found at hospitals) might have permeated inside Kim’s frail immune system.
However, shortly after SBS’s coverage on the issue, it was proved their analysis contained some distorted pieces of information. Above all, the number “six” for the precedented cases of canine infection of aeruginosa was actually 6%, which definitely makes a great difference from the previous figure. Moreover, the aeruginosa detected from Kim’s blood was of an ordinary type, not a “tolerant” one. Come to think of it, it was nearly impossible for Kim to have been targeted by secondary infection at the hospital as she was there for just 64 minutes. So, now the confirmed information states that Bugsy’s bite caused an injury which allowed for the lethal virus to pass through. It seems only that such news reports, first organized by SBS and spread throughout, contained various “possibilities” unable to be ignored in Choi Ki-ho’s rather ambiguous statement of apology (especially the sentence mentioned before). This would have unintentionally provided the media with room for over-interpretation if the apology was a truthful one.
What about the Owner’s Responsibilities, Then?
Of course, the Choi Si-won family deserves harsh criticism not for paying attention to a dog which is always prepared to bite anyone. Not having leashed Bugsy, allowing the aggressive monster to roam freely without control, means the family cannot fully qualify as a rightful owner of a pet dog. It is undoubtedly a violation of the law worth 100,000 won of a penalty if the owner did not leash his/her dog before entering public parks or taking it on a walk. But Bugsy’s owner family, especially Choi Si-won, showed no sign of regret while repeating such illicit activities although his position as a public figure makes him a socially influential person. The postings on his Instagram account always showed an unleased Bugsy and a playful excuse for the dog’s being overly aggressive. Maybe the reason why Choi Si-won stayed out of controversy until recent days was the unnecessary tolerance and ignorance of the public.
Fortunately, there is a small wind of change after this shameful incident struck Korean society. Recently, a Cheongwadae petition started in the name of the “Choi Si-won Special Law,” calling for the compulsory usage of dog collars and muzzles outdoors. Moreover, thanks to the social trend, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry also decided to establish a “Pet Dog Safety Management Policy” in order to solve the limitations of current legislations. The motion includes a raise in the maximum level of fine against owners with unleashed dogs, which was previously a meager 50,000 won. Also, the Ministry is planning to practice “Gaeparazzi” to make sure the policy does bring some effect. Last year, out of a total 38,309 cases of pet-related law violations, only 55 led to actual penalization. The Gaeparazzi project will surely improve the statistics by giving rewards to those who have reported the numerous irresponsible pet owners.
How about Bugsy, then?
Meanwhile, disputes over what to do about Bugsy, the perpetrator of the dealt incident, are still ongoing. The controversy is largely divided into two different perspectives: one that argues Bugsy must pay the price of his own actions and one that the responsibility is of the owner’s. The former insists for euthanasia if the dog’s behaviors do not change, even after education. Although an extreme option, the US already practices euthanasia if that animal is judged as the main cause for a human’s death. On the other hand, the latter focuses on the need to “prevent,” not on penalizing a dog that might not even know what it had done wrong. So, the responsibility goes to the owner, not the pet Bugsy itself. And for now, the latter seems like a slightly better “solution” to the problem pointed out in the current issue. Repeating the question on “who” perpetrated the crime cannot help to improve the situation, and is even more problematic if this results in a lack of sufficient discussion on penalization of the owner, who holds full responsibility to care for the pet.
Nowadays, more than ten million households are predicted to keep a pet animal just in Korea, and it seems as if the unfortunate incident could be the turning point for awakening public attention towards what makes up a good owner. If it is for Korean society to view pets truly as part of family, the owner must take responsibility in guiding the clueless animals to socialize and behave properly. Hopefully, there are some practical efforts in progress, perhaps sparked by the shocking death of Han-il-gwan CEO Mrs. Kim. If situations stay the same, even after all the effort, it will only show Korean society’s inability to deal with the issue. The movement must not be temporary.
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