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[Video] Mall, shops start to open doors to dogs

When Starfield Hanam first opened in the southern suburb of Seoul last September, it promised to be something that Korea had never seen before: a shopping and entertainment complex that would rival theme parks for families seeking a weekend outing.

But there was one attraction that stood out for animal lovers in particular: Starfield would allow dog owners to bring their pets to the mall with them.

A year later, Starfield Hanam sees about 500 dogs per day visiting the mall on weekends.

(Shot by Kim Bo-gyung / Edited by Lim Jeong-yeo)

“Before Starfield Hanam opened, we used to only be able to take our dog to dog cafes or the park,” said Kim Ha-na, a 23-year-old who was at the mall with her pug Sugar. “It’s nice to be able to bring my dog someplace indoors that has a lot of open space.”

This year, retail giant Shinsegae opened another Starfield mall in the northern suburb of Goyang, which also allows dogs. Starfield’s decision to allow dogs was widely welcomed by the growing community of dog owners in Korea, which has reached over 10 million.

The company has no plans to allow dogs at its other retail outlets including Starfield Coex and its department stores.

Opening Starfield’s gates to pets reflects changing perspectives about dogs in Korea. Traditionally, dogs were not considered to be pets that live inside the house. They became more common in households starting in the 2000s.

Korea also famously has a history of consuming dog meat as health food, which continues to be controversial in today’s society.

Signs show where dogs are allowed in Starfield Hanam. (Kim Bo-gyung/The Korea Herald)
Signs show where dogs are allowed in Starfield Hanam. (Kim Bo-gyung/The Korea Herald)

However, the perception of dogs has changed, starting with how they are called in Korea: rather than being called “aewangyeon,” or dogs to be seen and enjoyed, Koreans now use the term “bannyeogyeon,” or companion dogs.

The idea that dogs are pets to be loved and cared for is reflected in the growing market for pet products. According to research by Nonghyup, the pet supply market has grown from 900 billion won in 2012 to 2.3 trillion won last year. By 2020, some estimate that the market will grow to 6 trillion won.

Other department stores also recognize the potential demand for shoppers wanting to bring their dogs along. The upscale Galleria Department Store, while not allowing dogs inside the stores themselves, has a pet store on the first floor where shoppers can check in their dogs while they browse the stores, according to an official with the company.

However, opposition to the decision to allow dogs in shopping spaces is also growing. Some shoppers complained that dogs interfered with their experience, or that it was inconsiderate for dog owners to bring their pets when there could be other shoppers who are afraid of dogs.

Shoppers and their dogs walk around Starfield Hanam. (Kim Bo-gyung/The Korea Herald)
Shoppers and their dogs walk around Starfield Hanam. (Kim Bo-gyung/The Korea Herald)

“Not everyone likes dogs,” said a man surnamed Kim at Starfield Hanam. “People come here on the weekends to rest. They should be able to enjoy the mall without having to be surrounded by noisy dogs.”

Concerns about having pets in public spaces have come into the spotlight, especially since the end of September, when a woman bitten by a French bulldog owned by Hallyu star Choi Si-won died after sustaining the injury.

The incident led to petitions calling for new legislation regarding dangerous dogs, and the local government in Gyeonggi Province even announced that it would be introducing a bill requiring all dogs over 15 kilograms to be muzzled when in public. It also raised concern over injuries caused by pet dogs, which reached more than 1,000 cases in 2016 according to the Korea Consumer Agency.

“We are doing everything we can do ensure that allowing dogs at our mall does not interfere other shoppers,” said an official with Shinsegae Property, which runs Starfield Hanam. “We have employees constantly walking around the mall to clean up after dogs if their owners haven’t done so, and make sure that dogs do not go into restricted areas.”

The controversy stemming from the Choi case has also led to some unfair prejudice, according to dog owners.

Amenities for cleaning up after pets at Starfield Hanam (Kim Bo-gyung/The Korea Herald)
Amenities for cleaning up after pets at Starfield Hanam (Kim Bo-gyung/The Korea Herald)

“I have a larger dog, and I know that she can scare some people. I always keep her on a tight leash in public places, and it’s frustrating when I see parents shooing their kids away from my dog or glaring at me. Not all dog owners are irresponsible,” said 30-year-old Lee Yun-jeong, who has a large bulldog.

Those misunderstandings have been amplified by a lack of awareness about basic behavioral etiquette that is needed for pets, pet owners, and non-pet owners to enjoy public spaces together, according to a spokesperson for Korea Animal Rights Advocates.

“There are so many incidents that could have been prevented simply by following basic etiquette, starting with leashes,” she said. “It seems so elementary, but the truth is that many owners do not feel the need to put their dogs on leashes. At the same time, non-pet owners must also recognize that they need to do their part as well, learning about signs such as certain colored ribbons on leashes that indicate they should not approach a particular dog.”

The two Starfield malls in Hanam and Goyang have kits including paper bags and plastic gloves placed strategically throughout the premises to make it easy for owners to clean up after their dogs. Each store has its own policy on dogs -- whether not to allow dogs, to allow dogs if they are in cages, or to allow dogs to walk around freely.

“Generally speaking, dogs are only restricted in restaurants and in stores with products for young children,” said the Starfield official. Luxury stores such as Louis Vuitton and Miu Miu all allow dogs if they are in cages.

According to Shinsegae, most dog owners who bring their pets recognize that it is their responsibility to ensure other shoppers’ safety. More than 90 percent of shoppers who bring their dogs make sure that their dogs are on leashes.

Shoppers interviewed by The Korea Herald echoed this view.

“Of course, there can be people who are afraid of dogs,” said Jung Ha-seung, who was looking at electronics with his corgi. “I think it’s important for dog owners to be careful around children or people who may be afraid of dogs, especially with the recent incident. It just takes a little effort and understanding on both sides.” 

By Won Ho-jung (
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