“Year of the Dog” brings help for dogs in China–and cats

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2006:
BEIJING, SHANGHAI–“The year of the dog has been difficult
for man’s best friend,” South China Morning Post reporter Jane Cai
observed on October 26, 2006. “Tens of thousands of canines have
been culled across the nation in the past few months and more will be
clubbed to death soon by local governments fearing rabies.”
True enough, but the 2006 Year of the Dog appears also to
have been the year that purging dogs began to give way to
vaccination. All year, the Beijing-run state newspapers and news
web sites have been exposing and denouncing dog massacres, always in
the past either praised or ignored.
An October forum on humane rabies control, held in Shanghai,
drew high-profile national coverage.

“Human rabies infections have rebounded rapidly since 1996,”
warned Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention researcher
Zhang Yongzhen, presenting scary numbers: 2,154 human rabies deaths
in the first nine months of 2006. Three hundred ninety-three people
were bitten by rabid dogs nationwide in September alone, resulting
in 318 human deaths, twice as many as in 1996 for the entire year.
For five consecutive months rabies caused more human deaths
in China, the forum delegates heard, than any other infectious
disease–and worse outbreaks could occur.
In the first seven months of 2006, more than 110,000 Beijing
residents and 52,500 Shanghai residents received post-exposure rabies
vaccination after being bitten by an unvaccinated or suspected
unvaccinated dog or cat.
Rates of dog vaccination vary in China from a safe 75% in
Beijing to under 5% in some rural areas–especially the areas where
dogs are raised for meat. So-called “meat dogs” are not vaccinated
because the farmers contend that they have no exposure to potentially
infected street dogs.
Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention virologist
Tang Qing shared her findings that in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous
Region, Hunan Province, and Guizhou Province, three regions with
high incidence of rabies, between 3% and 7% of the dog population
are infected at any given time. All three regions are hubs of dog
meat production.
Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute of Zoology researcher
Zhang Zhongnin emphasized that rabies can be prevented without
cruelty. “There is no need to be scared,” Zhang Zhongnin said.
“Culling is allowed by law, but should only be used when the
situation is extremely bad.”
Dog culls continued late into the fall, but met active
resistance, including in the Guangdong suburbs.
“On September 27,” reported Sophia Cao of the China Digital
Times, “ten urban administration officers in Dongguan went to
Shangjiangcheng village to kill stray dogs. They beat seven or eight
dogs to death in five minutes, frightening some women. Three young
men ran out with kitchen knives and tried to stop them. Some
villagers complained that the violent scene would scare children;
some complained that they lost their watchdogs.”
An accompanying photograph showed a young man confronting a
uniformed dog killer, knife in hand.
“After about a dozen dogs were killed, farmers beat the
hired culling team with iron bars,” added Jane Cai of the South
China Morning Post.

Increasing vaccination

Shanghai recently moved to improve tracking vaccination
compliance by microchipping 65,000 licensed dogs.
More than 550,000 dogs are licensed in Beijing, 90,000 more
than in 2005, “but statistics from the Beijing Association for Small
Animal Protection show that there are over one million dogs in
Beijing,” Xinhua News Agency editor Fiona Zhu reported.
Forty-five clinics open 24 hours a day and 277 clinics in all
offer post-exposure vaccination in Beijing. The coverage is good
enough, and dog vaccination compliance high enough, that no human
rabies cases have resulted from bites in Beijing in recent years.
However, rabies deaths have occurred in Beijing, as some victims
have fallen ill in Beijing after receiving bites elsewhere, and
others have been flown to Beijing for palliative care.
In August 2006, “police inspections in more than 1,000
Beijing neighborhoods netted 230 cases of illegal dog keeping,”
reported Chen Zhiyong of China Daily.
That was just before Beijing authorities escalated
dogcatching efforts that through mid-October had netted 8,961 dogs,
only 831 of whom were strays found running at large. Beijing police
also “shut down a local underground dog trade market in Tongzhou
District and confiscated 79 unregistered and illegally-traded dogs
there, wrote Wu Jiao of China Daily.
“The campaign aims to protect the public against ferocious
stray dogs and rein in unlicensed dogs,” but by vaccinating them,
not killing them, explained Beijing vice mayor Ji Lin. “Catching
and inoculating all the stray dogs is a major way to curb the spread
of rabies,” Ji Lin said.
“Shelters and health facilities are to be built in Beijing
for the hundreds of thousands of stray animals wandering the streets
of the capital, according to the city bureau of agriculture,” the
official Xinhua News announced at the outset of the Beijing campaign.
“A spokesperson said the bureau had completed drafting a regulation
on constructing an urban shelter system, now awaiting approval from
the municipality.
“The bureau will also subsidize animal clinics that
vaccinate, sterilize, and treat homeless cats, paying half the
costs,” working in partnership with animal charities, Xinhua News
added. The Beijing Association for Small Animal Protection
Association estimates that the city has more than 400,000 feral cats
distributed among 2,400 neighborhoods.

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