It’s a dog’s life: purity the key for treasured South Korean breed

By Hwang Sunghee, AFP

JINDO, South Korea — Pointy-eared and short-haired, the Jindo dog is a symbol of South Korea, where breeders and authorities keep its bloodline even purer than one of the world’s least diverse societies. The medium-sized hunting dog comes from the island of the same name, a remote rural community off the peninsula’s south coast. Visitors are greeted by signboards and statues of the eponymous canine, known for its fierce loyalty, and live ones stand guard outside homes or peek out from doghouses. But its bucolic appearance belies the rigid canine apartheid it imposes on the animals. Any dog that cannot prove its pedigree, or that fails to come up to standard, is immediately exiled, and any coming onto the island — even a returning Jindo — must have official permission, and be neutered. “We protect the breed by not letting registered dogs off the island and not allowing others in without a government permit,” said Cha Jae-nam, who heads the Jindo Dog Research and Test Centre. The dogs have been bred for centuries, and Seoul classified them as a National Treasure in 1962. Now Cha’s state-run center spends two billion won (US$1.75 million) a year on what he calls a “systematic and scientific” preservation of purebred Jindos. “It’s not common for people to conduct a paternity test on their newborns, but we do for all puppies at birth,” he told AFP.

“They are given a birth certificate if they match the DNA of their parents, but if they don’t, they must leave the island.” The emphasis echoes widespread notions about racial purity in South Korea, an unusually homogenous society where the population is around 96 percent ethnically Korean, and mixed-race relationships are frowned upon in some quarters. But even unquestionable genetics do not ensure survival for the dogs. When a puppy reaches 6 months of age, it must undergo a strict assessment of the shape of its ears, legs, tail and head to be microchipped and join the 6,000-odd registered National Treasure status Jindos on the island. Any that fail are removed. The rigorous controls enable Cha to declare confidently: “All Jindo dogs in Jindo county are purebred.”