NW China campaign against dogs highlights legal loophole in animal welfare
www.chinaview.cn 2009-06-16 20:37:59   Print

    BEIJING, June 16 (Xinhua) -- The dog looked into the camera innocently, wagging its tail under the shadow of a tree, unaware of the three men approaching with long bamboo poles in hand.

    In the following seconds, it was beaten on the back and head and left in a pool of blood.

    The video, widely circulated online, roused nationwide anger among animal-lovers but it wasn't a classic case of abuse. It was a government attempt to stop the spread of rabies.

    The video was shot in Hanzhong in the northwestern Shaanxi Province by an unidentified observer.

    On May 23, in response to increasing rabies cases, the Hanzhong city government ordered that all dogs in rabies-infected villages be killed. More than 34,000 dogs were killed as of June 11, according to the local government.

    The human stories were no less heart-wrenching.

    Li Yajun, 42, died of rabies on May 28 in Li Village, Yangxian County in Hanzhong.

    Working as a security guard in a county hotel, he was bitten by a pet dog on his finger around April 20 but didn't seek medical attention. Two weeks later, he began to have stomach- and headaches, nausea, panic and photophobia.

    "He was like a crazy man," said his wife Bi Xiaoxian. "From May 26, he began to scratch everything, bite hands and the quilt. He couldn't urinate so his belly was swollen."

    The family sent him to the hospital on May 22, three days after he first showed symptoms, but it was too late.

    Since March, rabies has broken out in five counties of Hanzhong. As of June 12, about 8,600 people had been bitten or scratched by dogs and 12 had died of rabies.

    "Many have gotten hurt and the situation is getting worse. What else can we do?" said Yang Jian, deputy chief of the agricultural department of Hanzhong, in an interview with Phoenix TV on June 4.

    Hanzhong was not the only place where dogs were killed. In late May, the government of Heihe in northeastern Heilongjiang Province announced a ban against dogs in the city and four villages under its administration. All dogs would be killed and their owners fined up to 200 yuan (about 29 dollars) if they were spotted in these areas from May 23 on.

    Dog killings also took place in Chongqing Municipality, eastern Shandong Province, southwestern Yunnan Province, southern Guangxi, Guangdong and Fujian provinces in the past three years, all to control rabies

    But despite the rabies outbreak, people questioned the local government about the need to kill all dogs.

    Hongshiliu Companion Animal Rescue Center, a Xi'an-based animal rights group, sent 12 volunteers on June 4 to Hanzhong to try to stop the killing.

    The volunteers saw people killing dogs on the streets of Hanzhong. Even those vaccinated could not survive, said Jiang Hong, in charge of Hongshiliu. "There must be a more humane and safe way to control rabies."

    Fourteen animal protection organizations from Xi'an, Chengdu of Sichuan Province and Chongqing Municipality jointly wrote to the Hanzhong government offering technical assistance in controlling rabies.

    In Heihe, under increasing public pressure nationwide, the local government withdrew its death edict but Hanzhong continued.

    China ranks the second in terms of rabies incidence in the world, right after India, in recent years, according to the Ministry of Health.

    "Rabies broke out mainly because people don't have their dogs vaccinated. Laws and regulations do require people to vaccinate and register their dogs and send them for annual health checks but they are not effectively implemented, especially in rural areas," Sun Jiang, an expert from the Northwest University of Political Science and Law, told Xinhua Tuesday.

    Sun agreed the government should kill infected dogs in case of a serious epidemic but it was not necessary to kill them all outright.

    "Instead, the government should inform the public of the epidemic, vaccinate dogs and take humane measures to euthanize infected animals," he said.

    "The root of dog killing is that we lack a specialized and inclusive law on animal protection. The laws largely focus on rare wild animals," he said. "Most importantly, we don't have strong punishment for domestic animal abuse and killing."

    Animal abuse is not a new topic in China. It's made the headlines with such tales as university students abusing pet cats, farmers cramming pigs into small cages that are so crowded the animals die, and the illegal sale of cats to restaurants.

    Experts are working hard to lobby the legislature for an animal protection law.

    At a seminar held at the Northwest University of Political Science and Law on Dec. 20, 2008, law experts decided to draft a version of an animal protection law and submit it to the legislature.

    Sun was in charge of the section on companion animals, covering issues such as compulsory vaccination, annual exams and sheltering of companion animals.

    "People's attitude toward animals reflects a society's civilization level. Although a law can not solve all problems, it will make people think again about their attitude and help reduce abuse," he said.

    More than two-thirds of countries have animal welfare laws and China should follow suit, he added.

Editor: Deng Shasha
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