Chinese “Year of the Dog” begins with good omens
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2006:
The Year of the Dog, observed throughout the regions of Asia
sharing cultural affinity to China, has rarely been auspicious for
1910, for example, brought famine and a rise in dog-eating
to Korea, following a Japanese invasion. In 1922 the Chinese
Communist Party declared that dogs are social parasites. The
notoriously dog-hating Mao Tse Tung became head of the Chinese
Communist Party in 1934, began his rise to national rule in 1946,
and in 1958 purged both dogs and songbirds, after the Great Leap
Forward brought famine on a globally unprecedented scale.
The 1994 Year of the Dog predictably began in Beijing with a
dog massacre. The Beijing Youth News estimated that as many as
100,000 dogs inhabited the city when the killing started. The
Beijing Evening News pretended that dogs found by the police were
taken to “an animal shelter run by the Public Security Ministry,” but
China bureau correspondent Jan Wong of the Toronto Globe & Mail
Chief dog-killer Li Wearui boasted to Wong that his team beat
to death 351 dogs in 10 days. His assistant Fei Xiaoyang preferred
strangling dogs with steel wire. The Beijing Legal Daily published a
photo of police dragging a dog to death behind a jeep.
The dogcatchers made a point of killing dogs in front of
their people, then collecting fines. “Our policy is to annihilate
dogs,” Li said.
For the first time since Mao seized power in 1949, however,
Beijing dog-keepers in 1994 resisted the killers, hiding dogs,
smuggling them outside the city for temporary safekeeping, and
refusing to inform on each other.
Trying to build support for dog-killing, the Beijing
government claimed in April 1994 that dogs had bitten 30,000 people
during the preceding year. By October the clamed 1993 total was up
to 52,000. As the ratio of reported bites to dogs in most cities
worldwide runs at about one bite per 150 dogs, Beijing had either an
exceptionally aggressive dog population or grossly inflated data.
Beijing tried to contain the rising public enthusiasm for
dogs by promoting a dog museum at the foot of the Great Wall in
Badaling. Officials believed that the public would tire of dogs, if
exposed to them for very long. The park opened with 150 purebreds,
imported from all over the world. Visitors soon wanted dogs of their
In Shanghai, wrote New York Times correspondent Philip
Shenon, a government survey found that dogs ranked fourth among most
the coveted possessions of Chinese citizens, ahead of cars, behind
television sets, refrigerators, and washing machines.
Alarmed, the Shanghai administration tried to eradicate pet
dogs by confiscating as many as possible for use in biomedical
Back in Beijing, officials acknowledged by mid-September
1994 that despite six months of deliberately vicious dog-purging,
the dog population had increased to 190,000, believed to be 3.5
times as many as inhabited the city in 1986. Somewhat surprisingly
admitting defeat, Beijing changed tactics, and in October 1994
proposed dog licensing–at a fee three times higher than the average
annual wage. The fee was cut by a third before taking effect. The
annual renewal fee was cut in half. The fees have since then been
The Beijing Evening News soldiered on against dog-keeping.
Nationally, the editors claimed rather implausibly, 100 million
dogs ate enough grain to feed 40 million people, of about 80 million
Chinese people said to be suffering from malnutrition. As China very
rarely acknowledges having any malnutrition, this claim drew
Dogs bit a million Chinese people per year, the Beijing
Evening News continued.
“Communist Party members should never do anything that could
harm the masses or society–for example, keeping dogs,” wrote one
That made dog-keeping a symbol of resistance to the
repressive status quo.
Jittery officials again purged dogs at the end of the 1994
Year of the Dog.
Dog massacres have continued here and there ever since, most
often amid rabies outbreaks in the vicinity of the huge factory farms
in the southern and coastal regions where dogs are raised for meat
Yet in hindsight, 1994 was the year when dogs won an
increasingly prominent place under the table in China, instead of
just on top of it, in pots.
More dogs than ever are eaten in China. Estimated annual
consumption is believed to have nearly doubled since 1994, to about
10 million, according to Animals Asia Foundation founder Jill
Robinson. The industry became more lucrative after Chinese dog and
cat meat merchants several years ago discovered and almost completely
took over the U.S. and European markets for cheap fur trim.
But there are now believed to be more than one million pet
dogs in Beijing alone, about 410,000 of them licensed. Throughout
China, there are an estimated 150 million dog-keeping homes, and up
to 300 million total pet dogs, according to the highest official
estimates. That would be almost five times as many dogs as there are
in the U.S., which has the third largest dog population of any
The U.S. and Costa Rica have the most dogs relative to
humans, among nations with good current data, with ratios of
slightly more than one dog per five people. However, China has not
less than one dog per nine people, and would have one dog per 4.3
people if the 300 million estimate is accurate. Even at the lowest
estimate, China has 10% more dogs than India, and almost as many
dogs per capita as Britain, France, and Australia.
This suggests that dog-keepers are among the fastest-growing
interest groups and potential political forces in China–and that
attitudes toward either eating dogs or selling their pelts may
Now denying dog massacres
Indeed, attitudes toward dogs in general have already
changed with impressive speed. In the northern port city of Tianjin,
for example, 510 people were bitten during the Year of the Dog
celebrations, from January 29 to February 5, while teasing dogs to
make them bark, as a purported harbinger of good fortune. Rather
than blame the dogs, the Tianjin Municipal Disease Control Center
took the opportunity to educate the public about dog behavior, the
Xinhua News Agency reported, praising dogs as “a loyal and obedient
Instead of boasting about an alleged dog massacre going into
this Year of the Dog, as his predecessors did 12 years ago, Beijing
State Council Information Office director Guo Weimin on January 12,
2006 denied media reports that 1,000 dogs had been killed in
Guangzhou, the capital city of Guangdong province.
According to the Xinhua News Agency, Guo Weimin “told a
press conference that some cities have recently stepped up the
management and supervision of illegally kept or vagrant dogs,”
including “a one-month drive to enhance the management of raising,
selling and abandoning dogs, in a bid to reduce the possibility for
the occurrence of rabies and the number of stray dogs.
“Nevertheless,” the Xinhua News Agency continued, “he denied that
there had been a mass killing of dogs in the streets.”
Instead, “According to Guo, dog-raising has caused some
social problems in Guangzhou recently. Local health departments
reported that at least two or three people had been bitten and
wounded by dogs each day, and this might give rise to rabies, a
disease caused by dog bite.”
To put that into context, Guangzhou is the hub of the part
of China where dogs (and cats) are most commonly eaten, and most
plentifully raised for human consumption. Rabies vaccination is
strictly required of pets throughout China, but “meat dogs” are not
vaccinated. Nearly 3,000 Chinese people die from dog-transmitted
rabies per year, almost entirely in proximity to dog meat farming.
Two weeks after Guo Weimin held his press conference, ANIMAL
PEOPLE received an e-mail from Jia Meng, chief member society
development officer for the Chinese Companion Animals Protection
Network, who wanted us to know that a cover feature published in the
Guangzhou edition of the newspaper Nan Fang Du Shi Bao had called for
“stopping eating cats and dogs. This is the first time the citizens’
voice of anti-consumption has been spread to such a broad extent,”
Jia Meng wrote.
Nan Fang Du Shi Bao claims a circulation of 1.56 million.
A comparably remarkable example of recent Chinese reporting
about dogs appeared in the Shanghai Daily on December 30, 2005.
“The approaching Year of the Dog is good news for people
selling pet puppies, but is raising concerns among those who take
care of strays,” the Shanghai Daily opened, in an expose of pet
overpopulation reading much like those published in U.S. newspapers.
“People who sell dogs in wet markets, pet stores and online
say sales have been booming as the end of the year approaches,” the
Shanghai Daily continued. “Some local pet markets say dog sales are
up by about 30% from normal, and their stores are packed with people
looking to pick up a puppy.”
Shanghai Pets Aid Center cofounder Zhou Min was extensively
quoted, inveighing against impulse buying and the Chinese
equivalents of puppy mills.
“Many puppies sold in some local markets are taken from
out-of-town underground sources,” Zhou Min said. “Bad conditions on
the long journey cause many of them to become deeply sick or to be in
poor condition. The dog dealers have their ways to make puppies look
energetic in front of potential customers. I am worried,” Zhou Min
said, “that some of their owners will choose to leave them on the
street in order not to pay expensive medical bills for their
treatment. They could also be abandoned after the new owners lose
interest or patience in looking after them.”
Reuters affirmed from Shanghai a month later that “Abandoned
animals are the dark side of the explosion in pet ownership across
the country in recent years.”
Reuters quoted both U.S. expatriate Carol Wolfson, who
recently founded a foster/adoption program in Shanghai called Second
Chance Animal Aid, and Shanghai Pet Association director Xia Jun,
24. Xia Jun represents a generation of Chinese youth who have grown
up in single-child families and have found companionship in animals.
“Some so-called animal protection organizations are not so
altruistic,” Reuters alleged, citing no examples. “Many have been
found to be selling the cats and dogs they gather to restaurants.”
Historically, that is what dogcatchers have done in China.
Yet even in Shanghai, reputedly the city where the most dogs are
eaten, strays are now at large, apparently because dog meat demand
BBC News Beijing correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in late
January 2006 visited a dog meat farm “in the countryside an hour from
Wingfield-Hayes found the anticipated horrific conditions. He also
found a surprise.
“This business is no good any more,” the proprietor
lamented. “There’s no money to be made in it.”
Continued Wingfield-Hayes, “I was soon to find out why. For
my next stop I wanted to visit a dog meat restaurant, but finding
one proved trickier than I had imagined.
“For two days my assistant scoured Beijing.
“‘Isn’t there one behind the Korean embassy?’ I asked. ‘No,’
she said. ‘That’s closed.’ ‘What about the one over by the
World Trade Centre?’ ‘That’s closed too.’
“Finally we did find one, way out in a grimy suburb on the
north side of the city.”
Dog-eating was never very common in Beijing, or in most of
the Mandarin-speaking parts of China. However, Cantonese and Korean
immigrants to Beijing opened as many as 120 dog meat restaurants
around the city during the late 1990s, mostly serving fellow
immigrants. Now their business is imploding under social pressure.
“I want to smash every dog restaurant in the city,” Beijing
Pet Nation Dog Academy groomer Li Xuefeng told Wingfield-Hayes. “But
really I don’t think it’s necessary. The dog restaurants are
disappearing fast. Young Chinese have very different attitudes
towards animals. They really love dogs.”
“It’s just not right that we eat dogs. Dog-eating was never
part of our tradition,” pro-dog activist Ou Yang told Jehangir S.
Pocha of the San Francisco Chronicle foreign service. “As China
develops, we should develop our society the right way and refine our
Wrote Pocha, “In an effort to win Chinese hearts and minds,
Beijing dog lovers recently started a petition to ban dog meat from
inside the city’s Science and Technology Museum, which hosted a
special exhibition to celebrate the dog/human relationship. Visitors
were greeted with giant blow-up photos of puppies in ingratiatingly
cute poses and a red banner that proclaimed, ‘Dogs are human
The Year of the Dog news from other Asian nations is mixed,
most ominously in South Korea. In theory, dog and cat eating was
banned in South Korea 15 years ago, but the law has never been
enforced, chiefly because it was too inspecific to be enforced.
For more than five years now, South Korean activists have
fought stealth attempts by dog and cat meat proponents to legalize
dog and cat eating by introducing a new animal protection law which
nominally strengthens the existing law, but distinguishes between
dogs and cats kept as pets and those raised for meat. In addition,
some legislators and administrative branches of the South Korean
government are reportedly trying to structure the new law so that
humane law enforcement, such as it is, will be funded by inspection
fees collected from the dog and cat butchers.
Only about 6% of South Koreans eat dogs and cats, about the
same percentage of Americans who hunt, but as with hunters, the
participants are disproportionately older men, who dominate the
national political, regulatory, economic, and communication
“The Philippines is one of the few Asian countries where
progressive laws exist to protect animals from cruelty and abuse,
including the implementation of a law in 1998 forbidding the eating
of dog meat,” recently wrote Animals Asia Foundation founder Jill
“However, the Philippine Animal Welfare Society has alerted
us that this law is now under threat. PAWS informs us that there is
a proposal to legalize the dog meat trade in Baguio province. Whilst
on the surface this appears to be an attempt to preserve local
‘culture’ and ‘tradition,’ PAWS is concerned that the real intent of
some officials is to open a wholesale dog meat industry.”
Specifically, after receiving a complaint from PAWS
volunteer and actress Sharmaine Arnaiz that dog meat was openly
advertised on a Baguio City restaurant menu, PAWS President Nita
Lichauco on December 27, 2005 asked Baguio City veterinarian,
Bridget Piok to enforce the law. Piok informed Lichauco that a
proposal to legalize selling dog meat was already far advanced by the
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo fueled
speculation that dog-eating might be legalized by asking a series of
questions about dog meat during a December 27 state dinner at her
official residence in Baguio City. The conversation was disclosed
four days later by Philippine Inquirer reporters Vincent Cabreza and
The Philippine law already allows members of the indigenous
Igorot tribe to eat dogs, an opening widely if illegally exploited
by dog meat dealers.
Public response to disclosure that the dog meat industry
might be fully legalized was overwhelmingly negative. On January 14
the Calabarzon police signaled that the law is still in effect and
being enforced by intercepting two jitneys carrying 70 dogs from the
Quiloquilo village, Padre Garcia, Batangas, to slaughterhouses in
Baguio City and the Ilocos region. Four traffickers were arrested.
Opposition to the dog meat trade increased on February 1,
after Animal Kingdom Foundation officer-in-charge Suzanne Llanera
disclosed the death of a four-year-old girl from rabies after
neighbors who were holding a drinking party gave her a bite of dog
“Ressia Mae Edoria of Barangay Molobolo, Cauayan, Negros
Occidental suffered from high fever and exhibited symptoms of rabies
shortly after eating the meat,” her father Renante Edoria told
Margaux C. Ortiz of the Philippine Inquirer. The girl died on
Veterinarian Winston Samaniego told Ortiz that rabies might
have attacked the victim though a tooth cavity, moving rapidly
through exposed nerve endings to her brain.
Confirmation that a clandestine dog meat industry persists in
Japan, decades after overt dog-eating disappeared, came in
mid-December 2005 when an 82-year-old man was arrested for dumping
the heads of about 30 butchered dogs in the outer moat of the Tokyo
“The man said he imported the severed heads and bodies of
dogs from China and sold all body meat,” the Kyodo News Agency
reported. “The heads were left unsold.”
The good news in that episode is that whatever dog-eating
continues has apparently dwindled to a remnant trade involving only
the elderly, whose source of dogs is abroad.
We hope to see the dog and cat meat and fur industries
elsewhere in Asia dwindle comparably in coming years.