Dogs donated by Kim Jong Un taken into custody by South Korean president

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SEOUL — Two fluffy former “peace puppies,” gifted in 2018 by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, are now at the center of a custody line between the former and current South Korean presidents.

Moon Jae-in, who left South Korea’s top leadership in May, plans to give up the pair of dogs Kim presented to her to mark the growing friendship between the two countries after a summit four years ago. Moon’s office said on Monday that he made the decision due to a lack of support from his successor, Yoon Suk-yeol.

Pungsan hunting dogs – the beloved breed originated in North Korea – are named Songgang and Gomi. They gave birth to seven puppies during Moon’s presidency, and he took the parents and one offspring to his personal residence as he left office.

It was an unprecedented move since the trio, as official state property, was supposed to be returned to the Presidential Archives in accordance with the requirements of the Presidential Archives Act. But after negotiations with the archives and the Interior Ministry, Moon was given custody of the dogs, according to his office. The ministry even requested a legislative amendment to implement this decision.

But like so many custody disputes, money seems to have gotten in the way.

South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported on Monday that the ministry has proposed a monthly budget of 2.5 million won ($1,800) in public funds to cover food and veterinary care costs for pets. The plan was derailed by “unexplained opposition” from Yoon’s administration, Moon’s office said.

“It appears that the presidential office is against entrusting the management of the Pungsan dogs to former President Moon,” he said in a statement. “If so, we can be cool about it.”

The statement cited Moon’s “regrets” for having had to return “pets to which he had become attached.”

The plight of the dogs sparked an online outcry, with many South Koreans asking how they could be treated as standard property and offering to adopt the family themselves.

Moon’s claim also prompted a denial from President Yoon’s office, which said relevant agencies were still discussing the situation. A lawmaker from the ruling People Power Party, Kweon Seong-dong, called the former president’s action “shameful”.

“Is he giving up the dogs because he’s no longer eligible to cover food and care costs with tax money?” Kweon asked on Facebook.

Dogs have been a repeated symbol of warming ties between rival Koreas. In 2000, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il gave two Pungsan dogs to his South Korean counterpart, Kim Dae-jung. Seoul returned the favor with two Jindo dogs named Peace and Reunification.

None of the parties to this week’s dispute have provided full details of monthly pet expenses – which amount to $21,600 per year. Songgang and Gomi stayed out of sight.

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