South Korean politics goes to the dogs amid row over canine gift from the North

Then-South Korean President Moon Jae-in petting a dog
Then-South Korean President Moon Jae-in strokes a white Pungsan dog from North Korea in October 2018.
(South Korea Presidential Blue House)

Two dogs given to South Korea by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2018 are now mired in a political dispute, with South Korea’s former president blaming his conservative successor for a lack of financial support to care for the animals.

Moon Jae-in, a liberal who left office in May, received the two white Pungsan hunting dogs — a breed indigenous to North Korea — from Kim following their peace summit in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang in September 2018.

The dogs are officially considered state property, but Moon took the pair and one of their seven offspring home after he left office. The move was made possible by a change of law in March that allowed presidential gifts to be managed outside of the Presidential Archives if they were animals or plants.


But Moon’s office Monday said he decided he could no longer raise the three dogs because the current government of President Yoon Suk-yeol was refusing to cover the costs of the animals’ food and veterinary care. The Ministry of the Interior and Safety said that the dogs were returned to the government Tuesday and that the parent dogs originally sent by Kim were being examined at a veterinary hospital in the city of Daegu.

In a statement released on Facebook, Moon’s office accused Yoon’s office of “inexplicably” blocking the ministry’s proposal to provide government funds for the animal’s care.

The ministry confirmed that it had drafted a budget plan to provide a monthly 2.5 million won ($1,810) in subsidies, including 500,000 won ($360) for the dogs’ food and veterinary care and 2 million ($1,450) for hiring workers to look after them. But the ministry said the plans were put on hold for months because of unspecified “opposing opinions” from within the ministry and the Ministry of Government Legislation.

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“It seems that the presidential office, unlike the Presidential Archives and the Interior and Safety Ministry, has a negative view about entrusting the care of the Pungsan dogs to former President Moon,” Moon’s office said.

In such a situation, Moon had no choice but to give the animals up, despite “disappointment and regrets, as they were companion animals” that he had grown “attached to,” his office said.


Yoon’s office shifted the blame to Moon for the move, saying the discussions about providing financial support were ongoing.

“It was entirely the decision of former President Moon Jae-in to return the Pungsan dogs to the Presidential Archives” instead of waiting for a legislative amendment to secure the subsidies, Yoon’s office said.

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Moon and Yoon’s spat over the dogs sparked criticism online, with users lamenting that the animals were being treated merely as property.

Staking his single-term presidency on inter-Korean rapprochement, Moon met Kim three times in 2018 and lobbied hard to help set up Kim’s meetings with former President Trump. But the diplomacy never recovered from the collapse of the second Kim-Trump meeting in 2019 in Vietnam, where the U.S. rejected North Korea’s demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for dismantling an aging nuclear facility, which would have amounted to a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

Kim has since vowed to bolster his nuclear deterrent to counter “gangster-like” U.S. pressure and sped up his weapons development despite limited resources and pandemic-related difficulties. The North has fired dozens of missiles this year.