South Korea Assembly likely to allow entry to guide dogs

SEOUL (AFP) – South Korea’s Parliament is likely to allow guide dogs entry to the chamber, officials said yesterday, 16 years after they were banned under a rule prohibiting “disruptive objects or food”.

The ruling should allow Kim Ye-ji, a blind pianist who earned a seat last week as proportional representative MP for the opposition Future Korea party, to be accompanied by her labrador retriever guide dog, Joy.

The country’s first blind MP, Jung Hwa-won, was prohibited in 2004 from being accompanied by his guide dog and had to be helped by a human assistant.

But newcomer Kim protested on her Facebook page last Saturday, and her cause won support from MPs of all stripes.

“A guide dog is the eyes of a blind person and a partner, not a disruptive object or food,” she wrote.

Kim Ye-ji of South Korea’s minor opposition Future Korea Party casts her ballot alongside her guide dog Joy and other party members during early voting for the parliamentary elections at a polling station in Seoul on April 10. PHOTO: AFP

Assembly officials told AFP that a final decision would be up to the incoming Speaker, but added that they were “likely to grant entry”.

“We are making preparations assuming Joy will be allowed in,” an official said.

The relationship of Koreans to dogs has changed markedly over the years.

Around one million dogs are still eaten every year in South Korea – where the meat is part of traditional cuisine – but consumption has declined as people embrace the idea of canines as pets instead of food.

A 2017 survey found that 70 per cent of South Koreans do not eat dog, but only about 40 per cent believe the practice should be banned.