Lifestyle & Belief

Rabies panic in China's south


A dog rides in the basket of an electric bicycle in Beijing on April 18, 2011.


Frederic J. Brown

The southern Chinese city of Jiangmen has declared a ban on pet dogs.

Residents have until Aug. 25 to find new homes for their dogs, or the pets will be culled.

It's an extreme response by any measure, though officials say the cause for concern is equally as extreme. Critics, however, say it's unnecessary and, what's worse, of no effect in the longterm.

Outbreaks of rabies have caused somewhat of a panic in the area, with the Jiangmen Daily reporting 42 rabies deaths among the city's 4 million residents in the past three years.

More than 2,400 people are killed by rabies a year in China, according to Ministry of Health numbers reported in the Daily Mail.

"Dogs found with diseases will be euthanized in a humanitarian manner. We will sign agreements with owners before putting down their dogs," Li Wantong, technology director at an animal disease control center in Jiangmen, told the Global Times.

Jiangmen officials also say the general state of the city has been compromised by the roughly 30,000 dogs that live there, with one resident saying the city is covered in excrement.

Only people who use dogs to protect property worth more than 5 million yuan (nearly $800,000) will be allowed to keep their dogs, provided that they immunize them and keep them locked up.

Dr. Jill Robinson, CEO of Animals Asia Foundation, told GlobalPost by phone on Wednesday, that the massive culling "is not going to help the issue of rabies."

It's short-term and doesn't address the crux of the issue, she said, which is that people need to take pet ownership seriously. "We've got it so obscenely wrong. It's not respectful to these animals."

Animal advocates say that a widespread vaccination program would be far more effective.

Dog culls aren't new in China. Around 40,000 dogs were brutally slaughtered in Hanzhong, Shanxi province, in June 2009, following another rabies scare.

Animals Asia's formal response to general dog culls in China:

Dog-population management is the responsibility of the whole community. An effective strategy, including education on responsible dog ownership and dog-bite prevention, legislation, registration, availability of veterinary services to neuter dogs, vaccination and the availability of effective rabies vaccines countrywide , and the availability and effective resourcing of holding centres and rehoming facilities, will reduce the number of roaming dogs. Such a strategy will provide widespread rabies vaccination coverage in both rural and urban areas helping to develop a healthier dog population, and reduce the number of dog-bite incidents and the number of dog-related conflicts within society and so prevent future mass dog-killing campaigns across China.