Korean society is changing. Currently, 14% of the population are elderly people. Most of these people are no longer economically active, and this figure is continuing to grow. Of course, because a large group of people is no longer economically fruitful, this will have a negative impact on Korean society. However, elderly people themselves are disadvantaged in numerous ways. Because they no are no longer in the workforce, many senior citizens are slowly being excluded from their communities.
Also, with the breakdown of the traditional role of the family, elderly people often have no one to keep them company, and in many cases senior citizens are neglected. A combination of these factors often leads to increased depression rates for this group.
In fact, South Korea has the highest elderly suicide rate among the OECD countries. Kyungki Research Institute recently reported that due to the increasing population of the elderly in our society, increased welfare programs and updated facilities for the aged population are necessary in the future. Since many of the senior citizens are excluded from the community because they are no longer part of the working class, the institute warned that it is crucial to establish a new form of community for the elderly in order to prevent them from feeling neglected and depressed. There is clearly a need for the Korean government and society to act on the needs of this growing demographic.
There is another group in Korea that is very much neglected. Every year, 81,000 abandoned animals are placed in shelters. The total expense spent by the government to take care of abandoned animals each year is $8,460,000, but with this budget it is simply impossible to protect and save every animal in the shelters. With 23% being euthanized and 27% being routinely transferred to different shelters, the issue of the increasing number of stray dogs is becoming very serious – not only for the dogs but in terms of the economic toll as well.
Korea’s culture of considering dogs to be “things” or commercial products has not only increased the rate of dog purchases (usually during a time of prosperity) but has also increased the rate of neglect or abandoned dogs (usually during times of financial difficulties). The resources to take care of these dogs are limited and, unfortunately, the number of abandoned animals continues to rise every year.
These are the two major groups in South Korea who are becoming more and more neglected and who would be very good for one another. As new senior communities are established, instituting a “match making” service for a senior citizen to be paired with an abandoned dog could alleviate many problems faced by both groups. Research has shown that having a pet can improve mild or moderate depression many people.
The formation of such a match making system between the two neglected groups would help to ease the need to build more shelters to accommodate the number of abandoned pets as well as to bring companionship to the elderly. For the senior citizens, adopting an abandoned dog would not only reduce boredom, it would also help them to stay physically and mentally active and provide security for those who live alone.
With the right supervision and support from non-profit organizations, institutes, and the government, this match making service would be an excellent way for a senior citizen to meet a loyal and friendly friend. This solution would not only help to resolve the issue of abandoned animals and the growing number of elderly, it would also help the government to be able to save the money that is used to cover the costs of abandoned dogs and use it for other needs.
Written by Irene Ahn, Taejon Christian International School (TCIS)