From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2006:
JINING, NANJING–Chinese animal control edged closer to
western methods in midsummer 2006, amid unprecedented but officially
encouraged public debate over dog purges conducted in response to
rabies outbreaks in Mouding County of Yunnan province, the Jinshan
district of Shanghai, and in 14 villages among nine counties in the
“I could not believe my ears when I heard that 50,000 dogs
were killed, many beaten to death,” wrote Shanghai Daily columnist
Wong Yong. “Even if rabies was so rampant that vaccination was
insufficient, and the dogs had to be exterminated, the authorities
could have been more humane and used lethal injection.”
Mouding County officials reported killing 54,429 dogs, among
a human population of 200,000, after 357 people were bitten during
June and July, including three who died of rabies.
The death of a four-year-old child ignited local anger.
“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,” wrote New York Times
Shanghai correspondent Howard French.
Mouding County decision makers apparently seized upon the
dog pogrom as a way to avoid being blamed themselves for lack of
vaccination and inefficient response to dog bites, but the effort
backfired. Photos of the killing hit the Internet almost immediately.
“Rabies scares in other parts of China quickly followed,”
French said. “Chinese news media reported the killings of 280 dogs
in Wuxi, near Shanghai, and 13 in Fuzhou, in southern Fujian
The Jinshan and Jining purge tolls were not announced. The
New China News Agency reported that the pet dog population of the
afflicted villages near Jining was 500,000, among a human population
of eight million.
Changes in Chinese domestic policy are rarely announced with
fanfare, and the midsummer transition in animal control philosophy
was no exception, introduced so subtly that some western news media
and animal advocacy groups responded to mid-August publicity about
rabies control in Nanjing as if what was happening was more of the
But it was very different, as spelled out by Wu Jiao of the
state-run China Daily.
“According to the Nanjing Public Security Bureau, which
launched the campaign on August 15, ” after 11,000 residents sought
treatment for dog bites in the preceding six months, “special police
officers will be found in public gardens, squares, and major
streets to capture and kill wandering dogs who are not with owners,”
Wu Jiao wrote.
“City regulations that all dogs who enter public areas
without a proper reason, such as obtaining medical treatment or
participating in a public performance, can be killed by public
security bureaus,” Wu Jiao continued. “However, officials from the
police bureau said the campaign will not kill domestic dogs roaming
public places. Instead, owners will receive warnings and fines
between $37.50 and $125,” exactly as would be done for allowing a
dog to be off leash in a public place in most major U.S. cities.
“Already there is concern from animal protectionists,” Wu
Jiao’s second sentence acknowledged, in rare recognition of public
“Homeless dogs who roam the streets have often already been
abused by irresponsible former owners. What we should do is to save
them from hunger and provide them with a safe home,” Nanjing
University student and animal rescuer Yang Xi told Wu Jiao.
The Legal Daily, published by the Politics & Law Committee
of the Chinese central government, “blasted the killings as an
‘extraordinarily crude, cold-blooded and lazy way for the government
to deal with epidemic disease,” reported Guardian Beijing
correspondent Jonathan Watts.
“Wiping out the dogs shows that the government officials
didn’t do their jobs right in protecting people from rabies in the
first place,” the Legal Daily editorialized.
“This is a classic case of lazy government,” agreed Lin
Weiping of the Beijing Youth Daily. “When local authorities set such
an example of barbarity and govern so lazily, what happiness will
the common people have to speak of?”
“I think this is completely insane,” agreed Beijing Human
and Animal Environ-mental Education Center founder Zhang Luping, to
Christopher Bodeen of Associated Press. “What’s more, this really
damages our national image, and sets a bad example to show how lazy
and inconsiderate those local government officials are. “I think
this brutal and cold-blooded campaign should stop as soon as
Observed Financial Times Beijing correspondent Mure Dickie,
“The government-ordered slaughter spotlighted the changing feelings
of ordinary Chinese towards their canine companions, and has exposed
the officials behind the killings to unusual criticism. Internet
discussion boards have hummed with outrage, and protest has even
spilled into state newspapers usually reluctant to criticise
government actions directly. The scale of the debate reflects
unusual tolerance by government censors, usually quick to shut down
media criticism of authorities.”
Added French of the New York Times, “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
“Some drew comparisons with China’s human rights situation,”
French noted. “‘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. ‘It’s the local emperors who have their say, and we
ordinary folks are not much different from dogs in their eyes.'”
Otfficial coverage of the dog purges took especially rare
positive note of organized non-governmental opposition to the status
quo–and seized the chance to educate about what should be done
“Fourteen animal protection associations from all over the
country wrote letters to protest the Mouding and Jining governments’
mass slaughter policy,” said the Xinhua News Service. “Dr. Ding
Zhengrong, a local epidemic prevention official in Yunnan Province,
said if advance measures could be taken to prevent an outbreak of
rabies, there would be no mass killing of dogs. ”
About 70% of rural Chinese households keep dogs, according
to government statistics, but only 3% are vaccinated. “Compulsory
vaccination of all dogs is a solution,” Ding Zhengrong told Xinhua
“He added that some urban families failed to register and
vaccinate their dogs because of the expense,” Xinhua News continued,
noting that the annual licensing and registration cost in Jining is
“Many farmers are reluctant to get shots for their dogs,
because it’s not always free. The veterinary system at the township
level has become inadequate,” agreed Guangxi University rabies expert
Luo Tingrong. “There isn’t much investment in the system.”
“If dogs are not vaccinated, that’s people’s fault, and
dogs should not be made to pay for human negligence,” tourism
official Tang Bing told the Xinhua News Service.
Added journalist Stone Chen, “The mass slaughter of dogs is
cold-blooded. Governments should detect dogs with rabies and put them
down in a humane manner.”
Said China Daily, “A controversial mass slaughter of dogs
may not be necessary.”
“Rabies is not on the rise overall,” pronounced vice health
minister Jiang Zuojun, who also “recommended vaccinating dogs rather
than mass killings.”
As if on cue the Beijing Morning Post announced that Qingdao,
a Shandong province seaport, would vaccinate 40,000 dogs during the
next 60 days.
China reported 2,651 human rabies deaths in 2004, 2,375 in
2005, and 961 in the first half of 2006–but 623 of the 2006 deaths
came in June.
Rabies outbreaks in 2006 and in other recent years have
occurred almost entirely in the southern and coastal regions where
dogs are bred on large farms for meat and fur –and pets, more and
more, as pet acquisition has far eclipsed increases in consumptive
use. There are now about 300 million pet dogs in 150 million
Chinese homes, according to official estimates, making the pet dog
industry more than 30 times larger than dog slaughter.
At least one of the several collective farms that acquired
St. Bernards to breed for meat production about eight years ago
apparently never actually sold dogs for meat. Greater profits, the
managers learned, could be had from western-style “puppy-milling”
for the fast-growing Chinese pet trade. Instead of hybridizing the
St. Bernards with traditional “meat dogs,” the farm diversified into
producing other popular purebreds.
“Beijing is cleaning up its dog breeding farms in the wake of
several rabies outbreaks in other parts of the country,” the Xinhua
News Service reported on August 12. “The Beijing Municipal
Agriculture Bureau will inspect breeders and check the registration
of pet dogs. The public security department will adopt homeless
animals,” the article said, but added that a spokesperson did not
say what would be done with dogs who are not adopted.
The Beijing Public Security Bureau opened the city animal
control shelter to the public for reclaim of lost dogs, introduced
an adoption program, and began accepting volunteer help in October
2003, after moving to attractive new premises, Association for Small
Animal Protection founder Betty Zhao e-mailed to ANIMAL PEOPLE.
Beijing had 60,000 reported dog bite cases in the first half
of 2006, but human rabies deaths in recent years have all been among
recent arrivals from the rabies-endemic regions. Beijing officials
often purged dogs from 1949 to March 2001, when 1,600 unlicensed
dogs were reportedly taken from their keepers and killed, after a
series of vigilante poisonings. Vigilantes killed dogs in Beijing
during the 2003 Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome panic, but the
official response was merely to pick up strays. And abandonees.
Beijing is among the relatively few Chinese cities with a
western-style animal control agency. Keeping pet dogs was officially
discouraged for most of 50 years, strays were often killed on sight
by police, and enforcing registration and vaccination requirements–
where any existed–was left to local ad hoc committees. Instead of
having a standing animal control department that collects strays all
year, killing dogs largely beyond public notice, Chinese cities
have sporadically drafted untrained and ill-equipped public employees
and volunteers to kill dogs.
“In Dongling, on the outskirts of Jingling in Shandong
province, teams of men beat dogs to death with wooden poles and
pitchforks, then trucked away their bodies,” villagers told
In Mouding County the dog-killers arrived in darkness,
banged pans and set off fireworks, then beat to death with mop
handles the dogs whose barking revealed their presence, said Los
Angeles Times staff writer Ching-Ching Ni.
“The only dogs spared were military and police canines,” Ni
wrote. “For each dead animal, owners were compensated 60 cents.
“Before the massacre began, authorities gave dog owners a
chance to do the dirty work themselves,” Ni continued. “Xu Jiajin,
a 70-year-old farmer, said his village had about 90 families and
more than 100 dogs. The villagers were told the dogs had to be
killed by July 27.” Under duress, Xu’s family hanged their dog.
“To prevent any dogs from leaving town, authorities set up
checkpoints on all major roads. Any dogs found in vehicles were
subject to immediate execution,” Ni added.
“County residents interviewed by phone said the killing
appeared indiscriminate. They said about 4,000 dogs already
vaccinated against rabies were among those slaughtered, because of
the slight chance they could spread the disease.”
China leads the world in agricultural vaccine use, but
vaccine quality control has been problematic, as production has
expanded much faster than official monitoring capacity. Purported
anti-H5N1 vaccines produced by substandard labs have in some cases
been suspected of actually spreading the disease, or causing
mutations that make it more virulent.
Outright fraud is also frequent.
“Last year, two boys in Guangdong died of rabies, against
which their parents thought they had been inoculated,” recalled
Watts of the Guardian. “Police then found 40,000 boxes of fake
However, Chinese confidence in vaccination has rapidly risen
as result of the largely successful efforts in recent years to
contain SARS and the H5N1 avian influenza virus. Both diseases are
more broadly distributed in China than anywhere else, and both
crossed into humans in the Guangdong region of southern China, long
notorious for unsanitary and inhumane “wet markets” where both wild
and domestic live animals are sold.
However, prompt response to H5N1 outbreaks with “ring
vaccination” had through August 20, 2006 held the number of mainland
Chinese human cases down to just 21, with 14 deaths. Both Vietnam
and Indonesia have had more than four times as many human deaths.
“Ring vaccination” consists of intensively vaccinating the
potential hosts of a disease in the territory surrounding an
outbreak. Potentially exposed host animals within the ring are
usually killed, in agricultural applications, since blood tests
usually cannot distinguish vaccinated animals from those carrying
latent infections, but the killing is minimized by preventing
further disease transmission.
The Chinese vaccine industry is believed to be capable of
accelerating rabies vaccine production to serve the entire dog
population within the next few years.