Our happy, dog hair-covered life: What it’s like to have a “big” dog in South Korea

31 Jul

A lot of our friends and family members have asked us how our dog, Clark, has liked living in South Korea, so I thought I’d write a post about what it’s like to live abroad with our pet.

A little about Clark

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Puppy Clark

Clark, a beagle mix, is five years old. Chris adopted him from an animal shelter when he was a puppy, and he has been a part of the family ever since. Clark has been instrumental in helping Chris cope with his symptoms of combat-related PTSD which worsened after his medical discharge from the U.S. Army. This has earned Clark recognition as an emotional support animal by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Getting Clark to South Korea

On the day of our departure, our stomachs were in knots. Traveling internationally with a pet involves a million moving parts, and we were so worried that something would go awry with our paperwork, not to mention the 12-hour flight!

At the airport check-in, we were mortified when Clark slipped out of his collar and jumped over the counter to say hello to the staff. Thankfully, they thought it was a riot, so the story of his little maneuver quickly spread among the Korean Air staff at O’Hare so that when we got to our gate, he was greeted with much fanfare: “So you’re the dog that jumped over the counter, huh?”

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Clark on the airplane

Thanks to Clark’s status as an emotional support animal, he was able to join us in the cabin. He had never been on an airplane before, so we didn’t know how he would react, but was perfect — no accidents, no whining. Most of the time, he just slept at our feet, sticking his nose between our tray tables during meal service.

A dog’s life in South Korea

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Clark is well-suited to apartment living; he’s well potty trained, he’s pretty quiet, and, even though he doesn’t have his own yard, he loves his walks. We’re lucky to live next to a big park.

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On the street, Korean people are usually surprised to see such a “big” dog. They say, “Wah! Keun gae!” (Wow! What a big dog!). Clark is just shy of 50 pounds, which would put him in the medium category in the U.S., however large breeds aren’t common in South Korea. Miniature poodles, shih tzus, maltese and other small breeds are very popular. An exception would be the medium-sized Jindo dog, a hunting breed believed to have originated on Jindo Island off South Korea’s southwest coast. According to Wikipedia, Jindo dogs are celebrated for their “fierce loyalty and brave nature” and “do not take any food from anyone other than their owners.”

Reactions to Clark

Although our neighborhood is home to several Jindo dogs and golden retrievers, pedestrians are generally wary of Clark. It sometimes feel like we’re walking a tiger. They usually give us a wide berth, and some people even step off the side walk into the street or cross the street altogether. We half-jokingly worry that we’re going to cause someone to get hit by a car. Some people freeze. On countless occasions, people have jumped and yelped in fear.

Some people don’t take kindly to him. Once, when Chris was walking Clark, an older man threw a cigarette at Clark, and there was a verbal confrontation in which other passersby stepped in to Chris’ defense. I was recently accosted by an older woman because Clark sniffed her plastic bag. Thankfully, these negative experiences have been few and far between.

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Most people just stare or try to get a reaction out of him by whistling or clicking. Only a few brave people actually come up to us and pet him. Once, when we were sitting outside of Starbucks, a woman in high heels and a mini skirt approached us. I immediately started to get nervous because he can be a little too friendly when he meets new people; I imagined him jumping on her nice clothes and giving her a slobbery kiss on the mouth, but, much to my surprise, she knelt down and started to play with him.

The downside to living abroad with a pet

The main downside to living in South Korea with a “big” dog is that it’s harder to travel. We don’t own a car, and we can’t bring him on public transportation, so we have to leave him behind. Clark has never spent much time in a cage, so boarding him hasn’t really been an option. We’ve been fortunate enough to find a wonderful dog sitter in our neighborhood.

However, I did manage to take Clark hiking last winter. We took a taxi from our apartment to the base of the mountain, and I just threw a blanket over the backseat. This summer, we’re hoping to rent a car and take him with us on a road trip. 🙂

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Clark on Mt. Apsan

So has it been worth it? Definitely. Sometimes I feel a little embarrassed for doting on Clark so much — leaving long, detailed instructions for the dog sitter or making him a birthday cake — but then I remember how short dogs’ lives are and how much joy he brings to ours and I realize that I don’t care what people think.

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My two cents: Make your dog a birthday cake, take his picture with the Easter Bunny, put together a Christmas stocking for him. Life is too short and there are already plenty of ordinary days, so don’t waste time feeling guilty about celebrating the little things in big ways!

 

P.S. If you stumbled upon this blog because you are thinking about adopting a large dog, I implore you to think long and hard about your decision. Facebook groups for expats are full of animals that people are trying to get rid of because they’re moving. If you do decide to adopt a dog, please consider rescuing an animal from a shelter. This overcrowded shelter in Daegu is full of dogs looking for forever homes.

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