EVER SEEN a little feline fellow walk across *Baekyang-ro*? The fellow is called *Hak-gwa-ni* and is one of the many feral cats that populate the campus of Yonsei University. In order to satisfy the curiosity of the many students who are wondering who look after the cats and how they are looked after, *The Yonsei Annals* interviewed three members of *Yon-nyang-shim*, the school group that looks after Yonsei’s feline friends.
An investigation into *Yon-nyang-shim*
*Annals*: Could you explain what *Yon-nyang-shim* is?
Lim Ji-hun (Sr., Dept. of Business Admin.): *Yon-nyang-shim*, the Korean abbreviation for “Yonsei’s Kitty is bored”, is a school group that aims to improve the quality of life of feral felines within school and to foster an environment in which their basic rights are guaranteed. A few of the activities held by the group are providing meals for the cats on a regular basis at designated areas, offering medical care to cats in need, and providing the Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)* program for cats in order to regulate the number of cats on campus.
*Annals*: How was *Yon-nyang-shim* first formed as an official group?
Lim: *Yon-nyang-shim*’s original name was *Gwangbok Hall Kitty will keep quiet*. The name originates from an incident of 2016, during which a feral cat gave birth to several kittens in near Gwangbok Hall. The kittens were very loud and disturbed the law school students studying, so several students filed a complaint that they could not focus. Consequently, a group of seven students created *Gwangbok Hall Kitty will keep quiet*, a group initially created to combat issues regarding feral cats on campus. After three months of preparation, the group became official and was renamed to its current name, *Yon-nyang-shim*.
*Annals*: What are some of the difficulties you face?
Lim: Before we created mini cafeterias where we could place meals for the feral cats, some people would throw away their garbage or knock ash of their cigarettes onto the cats’ meals as a sign to protest against support for feral cats. People would show signs of disapproval through such improper means instead of approaching us. Also after *Yon-nyang-shim* became official, we received a lot of criticisms on anonymous online communities. A few of the comments were “Why are there feral cats on campus? We should just kill them” and “Why should students offer help in performing TNR for feral cats? Would not death be a more desirable option?”. I guess some people take a very different stance on life ethics from us.
We do not have any reported cases of abuse after we became an official group, but we are aware that people who are disdainful of our activities may harm our cats any time and are therefore very careful. I think our cats are in less danger because they live within the campus and a lot of the community members are fond and caring of our cats. However, in communities outside of campus, cats are left exposed to various threats such as poisoned food or physical abuse.
A more in-depth interview with a few members of *Yon-nyang-shim*
* Annals*: Why did you decide to join *Yon-nyang-shim*?
Kim Soo-yeon (Jr., UIC, HASS): Living away from home and without a cat, I relieved my dire longing to see my cat by feeding feral cats. The very longing for my cat was the primary motivation for joining the group but I was also intrigued in *Yon-nyang-shim* itself as it was the only group at school that offered a helping hand to feral cats on campus. Upon joining the group, I have realized that there are many cats that are abandoned or of medical need. However on the brighter side, I also got to know how students could cooperate to offer help for feral cats. Such factors have motivated me to stay as an active member of the group.
Honora Johnston (Sr., Dept. of Korean Language & Lit.): I am also very fond of cats since my family used to live with a cat since my childhood. Back in the United States, where I used to live, I have volunteered at a cat shelter and enjoyed my time looking after cats. Upon learning that *Yon-nyang-shim* was recruiting, I immediately decided to join as I knew I would enjoy my time in it. Meeting cats on campus has indeed been one of the greatest pleasures of my campus life so far.
* Annals*: Are there any comments you would like to add regarding *Yon-nyang-shim*?
Lim: Recently, we have become quite popular not only on Facebook but also offline. We are very thankful for the people who are very supportive of the group. However on the other hand, the popularity is quite of a burden as there are still people who are very cynical of the activities we do and of the purpose of the group itself. Our aim to help feral cats on campus to enjoy a higher quality of life nevertheless, will not change and we will always strive to maintain our goals.
We would really appreciate if students were aware of the efforts taken by *Yon-nyang-shim* on campus. We post regularly on Facebook and hope students check out our page and the various activities we do. It would be nice of the students to know that several feral cats live with us in our school community and to offer a caring and respectful attitude towards our cats.
Kim: I have recently come across a woman who told her son not to touch feral cats because they are liable of spreading viruses or diseases to humans. I would like to clarify that people are not infected by viruses or diseases just by touching the cat. Feral cats may be more unhygienic than domestic cats, but as much as we regularly take care of the feral cats within school, they are not as dirty as students would expect them to be.
I would also like to mention that the perception toward pets in South Korea is very different from that of other countries. For instance, when I lived in Canada, I would let my cat freely roam around the streets because I was sure nobody would pose any harm. However, I would not be so confident to do so here. Feral cats are also commonly referred to as “thief cats” in Korean and the term itself clearly shows the hatred towards them.
Johnston: I have also been shocked at the extent to which feral cats are maltreated in South Korea. I was especially shocked when I heard that some people would just give their cats up for adoption once they have found someone to marry or live with. I consider my cats as family and would never think of giving them away. I hope other negative perceptions toward feral cats would gradually improve.
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As one of the many societies that overlooks animal cruelty to this day, the South Korean society is yet cynical about the support provided to feral felines. However, various efforts have been screened on the media regarding the harsh conditions not only feral felines, but many other feral animals face on the streets. Instead of holding a hostile attitude towards feral animals, why not provide helping hands with warmth? In order to sustain harmony as fellow residents of Earth, the human community should open its heart towards animals in need and aim to live in symbiosis with them. Feral animals may not have a permanent home, but that does not deplete them of their basic rights as residents of Seoul.
*TNR Program: The TNR program involves the trapping of the cats, the neutralization process (generally by a veterinarian), and the return of the cats to the community.