|A caged Bengal cat, brought by Rep. Kim Jin-tae, right, of the main opposition Liberty Party Korea, is placed on a table during a National Assembly audit session in Seoul, Wednesday. / Yonhap|
By Kang Seung-woo
Politicians are embroiled in an animal abuse controversy as the nation's awareness of animal rights continues to grow.
The latest controversy surrounds Rep. Kim Jin-tae of the main opposition Liberty Party Korea who brought a tiny Bengal cat in a cage to a National Assembly audit session, Wednesday.
The two-term legislator said he brought the cat to the National Assembly to take issue with the government's "over-response" to an escaped puma in September, which escaped its cage at a Daejeon zoo and was shot to death by police. At the time, the incident raised controversy over whether the killing was appropriate.
"I initially tried to bring a puma similar to the killed one, but I changed my plan because it may have caused trouble. Instead, I brought the small kitten with a similar puma pattern," Kim said.
He said he obtained the cat with difficulty for the Assembly session and took care of it by feeding it chicken breast and tuna for several days.
However, his displaying of the cat in front of scores of camera flashes immediately drew a backlash criticizing the conservative lawmaker of animal cruelty.
"Kim's move to exhibit the caged cat shows he does not understand what the real problem was in the puma case at all. It is more animal abuse," an animal rights group, Animal Liberation Wave, said in a statement.
"Bringing the cat as a unique witness to the Assembly audit, he wanted to draw attention. It was just a political show exploiting an animal."
The organization called on Kim to reveal where he had attained the cat and how he will raise it.
Last week, Gyeonggi Governor Lee Jae-myung was also under fire for taking advantage of an adopted dog for his mayoralty of Seongnam and abandoning it later after transferring to the governorship.
According to Seongnam City Councilor Ahn Gwang-hwan, Lee adopted a golden retriever through Korea Animal Rights Advocates (KARA) in 2014 when he was the mayor of the Gyeonggi provincial city, but later gave up his adoption of the dog after he was elected as governor in June when the dog was no longer a political asset.
Lee's adoption was designed to promote Seongnam as a city where even a dog can be happy, he added.
"He deserves criticism if he intended to take advantage of the dog's adoption to improve his reputation and neglected it after accomplishing his intended goal," the city councilor said.
In response, Lee claimed he could not take the dog to his new office because it belongs to Seongnam City, not him.
KARA also said the governor expressed his wishes to continue raising the dog, but the animal rights body declined because Lee's new home and office were not suitable for raising the dog. The dog was returned to KARA.
In the past, the most notable mention for animal cruelty in political circles was former President Park Geun-hye.
Park was accused of "abandoning" nine dogs she had had at Cheong Wa Dae when she left the presidential office in March last year after being impeached for a massive political corruption scandal.
Animal rights activists say politicians need to consider their future plans with animals when they use them to promote their careers.