The Korea Herald


[Pressure points] Gifting condolence money at dog’s funeral: a new ritual?

By No Kyung-min

Published : March 5, 2024 - 16:21

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Gifting condolence money in a white envelope to those you are close to who are in mourning is a long-standing tradition in South Korea.

Yet, when this custom coincides with Korea's increasing number of pet owners and evolving pet-friendly culture, it might take an unexpected turn in this nation which has recently decided to outlaw the consumption of dog meat.

In a survey of 5,000 Korean nationals conducted in 2022 by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, nearly one out of four respondents had a pet, with around 75 percent owning a dog.

Recently on Blind, an app designed for anonymous discussions among employees, a person shared their perplexing experience of attending the funeral of their friend's dog, where they were expected to gift so-called "condolence money."

"Upon noticing a collection box, I contributed 50,000 won ($37) to avoid causing any discomfort to my friend, albeit feeling a bit taken aback,” the author wrote on Jan. 8. “I am uncertain if this (expecting monetary condolence at a pet funeral) is the right thing.”

Those who commented negatively on the post can mainly be divided into two types: those against the idea of hosting a dog funeral and those objecting to giving condolence money at such a ceremony.

"It appears we're now expected to give congratulatory money for a dog's wedding," quipped one commentator, referring to the whimsical idea of organizing weddings for dogs. Another comment added sarcastically, "And even for a dog's first birthday party."

One comment expressed curiosity about whether the author had adhered to traditional funeral customs, such as bowing to a photo of the deceased on the altar, and if there had been a "sangju," or "chief mourner" overseeing the funeral arrangements and proceedings.

On the other hand, some were less concerned about the funeral itself and more focused on the practice of giving condolence money.

One commenter shed light on the customs’ origins, rooted in the principle of reciprocity, in which people who are close to each other gift each other cash at their respective ceremonies. However, since not everyone owns a pet, having to participate in this practice could defeat its intended purpose of reciprocal exchange, the user explained.

"If I were to hold a funeral for my dog, I wouldn't invite my friends. I would prefer to mourn with just my family members," Son, owner of a 10-year-old Maltese, shared with The Korea Herald. "I wouldn't want to burden my friends if at all possible."

Kim Ji-hyo, another pet owner raising an 8-year-old Bichon Frise, suggested an alternative approach. "At my friend's dog's funeral, I would present items the deceased dog used to enjoy. Instead of money, toys and snacks seem like better options to me."

On the flip side, some commenters on the Blind post empathized more with the emotional dimension of the situation, endorsing the author’s decision to give condolence money to their heartbroken friend.

One expressed sympathy for the friend’s loss rather than focusing on the material issue of giving condolence money. "The decision to give condolence money depends on one's personal values," noted one comment. "If my friend is experiencing significant pain, I prefer to stand by them, offer comfort, and share a meal."

Others echoed a similar sentiment, affirming that if close friends were facing such hardship, they would attend the funeral -- whether for a dog, cat, or hamster -- and offer condolence money.

Another commenter mentioned, "Upon the passing of my close friend's dog, I sent 100,000 won in condolence money to alleviate my friend's grieving heart." The commenter further said that the dog's death brought back memories of a similar experience he had endured with his own pet.

Taking a more pragmatic approach, some suggested to take into account the funeral expenses when trying to determine the appropriate amount of condolence money to give.

Pet industry insiders remain cautious on the issue, pointing out that not everyone is on the same page when it comes to this burgeoning trend in Korea's increasingly pet-friendly culture. Inviting guests to a pet’s funeral with expectations of receiving condolence money might clash with the intended purpose of honoring and remembering the deceased pet, they noted.

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"Pressure points" delves into the seemingly trivial, yet surprisingly contentious topics that ignite debate in our everyday lives. -- Ed.