Dogs of North Korea: Kim’s pets, valuable pelts and inter-Korean peace offerings
Two pungsan puppies have been gifted from North to South Korea, while the hermit state has been collecting dog fur from its citizens before one of its biggest national holidays
Last week, a pair of hunting dogs indigenous to North Korea made headlines worldwide, when the hermit state’s leader Kim Jong-un gifted them to his South Korean counterpart, President Moon Jae-in.
The pungsan dogs were hailed as “peace puppies” by international media outlets – but in North Korea, dogs mean more than peace, friendship and loyalty.
Days after the furry pair were gifted to South Korea, reports surfaced that the North Korean regime had been collecting dog fur from its citizens ahead of Party Foundation Day, one of the North’s biggest holidays, when North Koreans are expected to make donations to the state.
The government has been asking citizens to relinquish their pet dogs and their pelts, or to offer a cash contribution of 20,000 North Korean won (US$148) or 4kg worth of rice to the state, according to UPI.
According to Korean media, dog-fur coats are the North Korean equivalent of the designer goose-down puffer jackets so popular in South Korea. The collected pelts are likely to be used to make dog-fur coats in North Korea, where resources are low and the winters are notoriously cold.
These coats, often seen on members of the North Korean army, can reportedly be bought for around US$53 at local markets.
While dog fur is a highly coveted commodity in the winter, and dog meat is a popular North Korean fare in the summer, dog ownership is on the rise in the dictatorship.
From the late 1980s until 2011, there was an off-and-on ban on pet ownership in North Korea due to the luxurious connotations of owning an animal. However, reports indicate that since Kim Jong-un took over as Supreme Leader in 2012, citizens have again been allowed to own dogs and other animals.
Well-groomed pet dogs are increasingly popular as status pets among elites, said Geoffrey Cain, a writer and journalist specialising in North Korean coverage.
“When I visited Pyongyang last time, I saw the occasional pet on the street … Elites do have the resources and time to get interested in dog breeds and dogs as pets. No doubt they’ve become a status symbol in attaining wealth,” he said. “It’s a small class of elites [who own status pets], and shouldn’t be taken as evidence of a massive social or economic change. But it does show that affluent North Koreans have more than they did in the past.”
As in neighbouring South Korea, small toy breeds such as maltese and chihuahuas are also highly popular among party officials and the North Korean elite. Designer breeds reportedly cost between US$40 and US$60 per dog.
Kim – a known pet lover like his late father, Kim Jong-il – is said to be a collector of dozens of pedigree dogs, including Shih Tzus, German shepherds and other European breeds.
The image of Kim as the owner of a kennel of dogs fits well with his imperial image, Cain said.
“Many Korean leaders, including Samsung’s former chairman, were similar,” he said. “The Jindo dog, South Korea’s own national dog, was first bred by Samsung head Lee Kun-hee and a team in the 1970s.”
Like other pet-loving leaders such as Vladimir Putin, the Kim family has been known for gifting pet dogs to close friends and high-level officials in North Korea. In 2000, Kim Jong-il also gifted then-South Korean president Kim Dae-jung a pair of pungsan dogs.