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Local government officials sanction mass slaughter to make Hanzhong a “dog-free” city
Almost immediately following news that the authorities in Heihe have agreed to suspend their previously announced dog cull, we now hear that the authorities in Hanzhong, Shaanxi Province have commenced a cull there. While people in China and across the world are congratulating the Heihe authorities for their cancellation of the cull and proposed promotion of responsible dog ownership, the authorities in Hanzhong should be ashamed for their barbaric response to a rabies outbreak which does not even begin to address the problem at source.
The decision to implement a cull is apparently based on the health and safety of the local population, but the reality is that this not an effective solution in stopping the spread of disease such as rabies. The vacuum which culls leave is very quickly filled by new stray animals with similar problems of those before. Responsible Trap Neuter Release (TNR) programmes allow desexed, vaccinated, microchipped and now healthier animals to remain in the area, where they will prevent new and potentially diseased animals from entering their territory, and where their population will gradually decrease. Further, culling is seen as a cruel and hastily implemented massacre which brings disgrace to the country in the eyes of the international community. The unnecessarily cruel method of slaughter – literally beating the dogs to death – is unconscionable and incompatible with any reasonable standard of animal welfare.
In India, where rabies is widespread, a recent report by the Animal Welfare Board of India has shown the results of a study which compares two different methods of controlling this disease. Conclusive results from this study show that responsible “spay/neuter/vaccinate/release” programmes have reduced the incidence of rabies by a significant percentage. “Since 1996, instances of rabies in humans have reduced from 120 to five a year in Chennai” said Dr. K. Manivasan, Joint Commissioner (Health), Chennai Corporation.
The study covered two periods; the first from 1980 to 1995 when the killing of dogs was implemented as the method of choice of rabies control, and the second period from 1996 to 2005 after the killing was replaced by spay/vaccinate and return programmes. The results showed a rapid distinct down trend of rabies after 1996 “and was further proof, if any were needed, that Animal Birth Control/Vaccination is the only sensible way to go to control the street dog population and rabies.”
Similarly, Dr. Francette Dusan, a WHO expert on diseases passed from animals to people, said effective rabies control required coordinated efforts between human and animal health agencies and authorities. “This has not been pursued adequately to date in China with most control efforts consisting of purely reactive dog culls,” Dusan said. To access the WHO materials on rabies control please click here: Fact sheet 99, Dec 2008.
In this spirit of coordination, Animals Asia has also been funding Trap Neuter Release programmes for cats in China. Stray cats are collected by local welfare groups and animal lovers, and transported to clinics where they are desexed and vaccinated. Once they have recovered from their surgery, these more healthy animals are placed back into the original area from where they came and embraced and cared for by the community. Suddenly street cats become therapy cats and provide companionship for those who enjoy their presence such as the elderly and lonely.
The issue of licensing and vaccinating dogs must also be explored more effectively in China. The authorities of various provinces previously raised the license for pet owners to such an extent that people hid their dogs away rather than paying such extortionate fees. This in itself could have contributed to the rabies problem - particularly in rural areas - and potentially left these dogs vulnerable to the disease - especially if they were abandoned, escaped, or entered the live animal markets. Animals Asia often witnesses pedigree animals in these markets - which can be bought as pets or food.
There is significant risk of rabies being found in the dogs caught up in the meat trade, where they are caged, transported and kept in the markets en-masse. Many are wounded as a result of inappropriate handling and the abuse they receive at the hands of the traders and the rabies virus can easily spread through bites or scratches or even from saliva entering open wounds. Indeed, evidence is emerging in countries such as China, Vietnam and the Philippines where the preparation and consumption of these animals is putting people's lives at risk. Rabies is one disease which can be reduced by implementing responsible and humane management practices for stray dogs and cats, and by removing these animals from the food chain.
Several authorities such as Beijing and Guangzhou have now implemented responsible procedures in an attempt to prevent disease. In recognition of the important role that dogs play in society, city departments in Beijing reduced the licence fee from 5000 Rmb to 1000 Rmb, as of October 15th 2003. Subsequently the number of registered dogs shot up to 410,000 citywide and experts estimate that this represents roughly 90 per cent of the total number of dogs in the capital - all of which are now vaccinated against rabies.
Allowing people to have companion animals is very much in keeping with the change in China's social structure where dogs and cats are seen today as playing an important role in developing society. During the Olympic Games in Beijing, and during natural disasters, such as the earthquake in Sichuan, sniffer dogs were risking and losing their lives to protect and help the people of China. Similarly, customs dogs and even guide dogs for the blind are being introduced into community service and the public are gradually recognising this species as one which can benefit our day to day lives, rather than providing us with food.
Dogs provide comfort for the elderly and emotional support for those who are childless or single. As a result, more and more people are turning to dogs for companionship and support, and pet ownership is booming, with just over 150 million pet dogs throughout the nation - one for every nine people. (Xinhua News Agency 14th February 2005).
As with similar studies worldwide, recent research in China, jointly conducted by the Psychology College of Beijing Normal University and Companion Animal Research and Information Centre (CARIC) also concluded that pet owners have better physical and mental health than non-pet owners.
"The human-pet bond is one of attachment and loyalty. When we as a society pay attention to it, we can also benefit from it by improving the quality of life for at least some social strata in very tangible ways. Hopefully our research can help the government in its pet-related regulations." Professor Zheng Richang, Beijing Normal University.
Dogs and other companion animals also provide an important financial, as well as emotional, contribution to China: according to the Beijing Kennel Club, pet owners in the city spend more than 500 million yuan on their pets a year. Experts predict that the annual sale of pet food and accompanying necessities and accessories in China may exceed 6 billion yuan by 2008 and that the market potential for the "pet economy" could reach a minimum of 15 billion yuan.
Embracing dogs as an integral part of our society also has long-term ramifications in the control or reduction of national healthcare costs. Studies by Professor Bruce Headey, at the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic & Social Research, puts the amount of national savings in Australia or Germany at billions of dollars.
Animals Asia's successful Dr. Dog animal therapy programme sees over 300 dedicated volunteers and their dogs visiting hospitals, disabled centres, elderly homes, orphanages and schools spreading warmth and love to people in need across Asia. Dr. Dog operates in Hong Kong, Japan, India, the Philippines Taiwan and, most recently in China, in Chengdu, Shenzhen and Guangzhou. As a result, we have been inundated with calls from organisations across China requesting visits and from dog owners enquiring how to join this uniquely beneficial programme.
"The delight that Dr. Dog brings to our patients can never be done by medicine."
Professor Jinxiang Li, The Department of Palliative Care, West China Fourth Hospital of Sichuan University.
With dogs offering so many benefits to all sectors of society, it is vital that they are treated with the respect and compassion that they deserve. We urge the authorities in Hanzhong to end the cruel and senseless culling and to follow the example of other countries in Asia who have introduced wide-ranging protective measures for companion animals and who promote far reaching education programmes of responsible pet ownership, rabies awareness and humane stray dog and cat control. Animals Asia and the groups with whom we work with would be pleased to cooperate with the authorities on all levels to introduce and advise on public education initiatives to ensure that dogs and people can peacefully and safely co-exist in Hanzhong.
In this context, we are forwarding a message to the Hanzhong authorities reflecting our concerns and requesting an urgent meeting to discuss this matter further. We look forward to working with them towards a more harmonious relationship between people and companion animals.