In an antirabies program in Luoping, China, a dog was clubbed to death and thrown into a collection truck.
By HOWARD W. FRENCH
Published: August 10, 2006
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A Chinese Outcry: Doesn’t a Dog Have Rights?
SHANGHAI, Aug. 9 — It was late last month, the boy said, his voice still tinged with emotion, when he and his father were forced to march their two German shepherds to a public square and hang them from a tree.
The boy, Xia Shaoli, was not alone in his pain. Officials in Mouding County in southwestern Yunnan Province had ordered the mass extermination of dogs, pets as well as strays, after three people died in a rabies outbreak. And as a crowd gathered around a large tree in the village of Xiajiashan, owners complied one after another with commands to string their dogs up.
According to official figures, 54,429 dogs were killed during the Yunnan campaign. Reports in the Chinese news media say that some people out walking their dogs had the animals seized by gangs of vigilantes, who clubbed the dogs to death on the spot.
The events in Yunnan have been quickly followed by rabies scares in other parts of China. On Wednesday, the Chinese news media reported the killings of 280 dogs in Wuxi, a city near Shanghai, and 13 in the city of Fuzhou in southern Fujian Province.
Earlier this week, a cluster of 16 villages in the southwestern part of Shandong Province declared a rabies alert, and county officials have drafted a dog extermination plan that would call for the killing of any dog found within a three-mile radius of any known rabies case.
There are half a million dogs in the city of Jining, which encompasses the 16 villages, the official New China News Agency says. Officials there said their extermination plan was scheduled to begin later this month. There have also been reports of smaller extermination schemes in other parts of the country, notably in Sichuan Province.
As remarkable as the killings themselves, however, has been the response. With its rising prosperity, China is developing a pet-owning culture, with dogs standing out as a particular favorite. As word of the killings has spread here, pet owners have begun to mobilize — speaking out online and circulating petitions — to try to stop the killings.
In fact, discussion of the issue has surpassed the bounds of a simple conversation about pets’ rights, with many commentators sharply questioning a system that could order the mass extermination of dogs, whether or not they are licensed and vaccinated. The reaction of groups and individuals, often through the Internet, also provides a striking illustration of the emergence of true public opinion in China, unmediated by the official press or censors.
“This is just another stupid decision by several foolish officials taken in a small room, totally unreflective of the people’s will,” said a comment on Mop, a current affairs forum.
Some drew comparisons with China’s human rights situation. “We don’t have human rights, let alone dog rights,” wrote a commentator going by the name of Kui Kui Xiang Ri, on the Tianya forum. “I’ve seen too much live abuse, let alone abuse of dogs. Anyway, it’s the local emperors who have their say, and we ordinary folks are not much different from dogs in their eyes.”
Chinese humane societies have announced plans to file lawsuits against local governments that mount extermination campaigns. “This kind of thing is just too terrible, too inhumane,” said Huang Juan, a leader of the Abandoned Pets Assistance Center, in Wuhan. “They did it without any real reason, since many of these dogs are vaccinated and cannot spread rabies. But how can you speak reason with these people?”
Another group, the China Small Animal Protection Association, said it would sue. “We are meeting with lawyers the day after tomorrow, and will go to court and bring charges against two local governments,” said Lu Di, the group’s director. “I will not just try to persuade, warn or criticize them — it’s too late for that. We will sue them to make them understand that this is not merely a moral issue, but a crime.”
On Wednesday, the Humane Society of the United States offered $100,000 to China to establish a program to control rabies in Jining, The Associated Press reported.
More broadly, others pointed out that the extermination campaigns contradict the guiding ideology of China’s current leaders, who constantly invoke the need to build a “harmonious society.”
Although the extermination programs are being widely denounced here, there is no doubting that rabies remains a severe problem in China. Nationwide, 961 people died of the disease in the first six months of the year, and last year, 2,545 people died. By contrast, rabies deaths in most Western countries are extremely rare.
Experts say the persistence of the disease reflects the breakdown of the rural health care system, once one of the proudest achievements of Chinese Communism. Many poor rural provinces view canine rabies vaccinations as a costly burden. Meanwhile, an oral vaccine, which is far easier to administer, is not imported, partly because of its cost.
“Many farmers are reluctant to get shots for their dogs, because it’s not always free, whereas the veterinary system at the township level has become very inadequate,” said Luo Tingrong, a rabies expert at Guangxi University. “There isn’t much investment into the system.”
China Plans a Rare-Animal Hunt
BEIJING, Aug. 9 (Reuters) — China plans to auction licenses to foreigners to hunt wild animals, including rare species, a newspaper said on Wednesday.
The government will auction the licenses based on the numbers in each category of animal, ranging from a starting price of $200 for a wolf, the only predator on the list, to as much as $40,000 for a yak, The Beijing Youth Daily said. There are believed to be fewer than 10,000 mature wild yak in the world.
The newspaper said the auction, on Sunday in Chengdu, capital of the southwestern province of Sichuan, would be a first for China.