Chinese Slaughter of Dogs Sparks Public Outrage

Citizens in China have expressed outrage at the mass slaughter of dogs to stop an outbreak of rabies.

In southwestern China's Mouding County, local officials recently ordered 50,000 dogs beaten to death to stop an outbreak of rabies that had killed three people. Teams of men searched the streets, seizing and destroying dogs, sometimes right in front of distraught owners.

Last week, a district in eastern China began a similar cull after 16 people died of rabies. Nationwide, the Ministry of Health says more than 2,500 Chinese died last year from rabies, which is often passed to humans in bites from infected dogs.

Years ago, when China was much poorer, the cull might have gone unnoticed. Animals usually were kept just for food. And animal welfare was not considered a high priority in a country that suffered famine, war and political violence over the last century.

But that has changed as China has grown wealthier. For many Chinese, dogs are now treasured pets, considered part of the family. The public reaction to the killings is one of outrage.

One newspaper called it a "crude, cold-blooded and lazy way" to prevent rabies, while callers to radio talk shows and postings on Internet forums used even more colorful language.

Cici walks her cocker spaniel, Amber, daily in the leafy courtyard beneath her Beijing apartment building. She is angry about the dog killings.

"Dogs also have lives," she said. "Would you casually kill a member of someone's family? Dogs also have parents. You can't say, 'I have the right to kill, so I will kill.' If this society is going to respect human rights, dogs rights can't be separated."

International animal rights agencies have condemned the killings. The Humane Society of the United States even offered $100,000 to help fund a rabies vaccination center if the killings were stopped.

Angela Zhang of the Beijing office of the International Fund for Animal Welfare says the premise behind the cull is wrong.

"This dog killing, the cause, according to the government, is an outbreak of rabies, but actually killing dogs does not solve [the] rabies problem," she said. "Vaccination is so far the most scientific, effective and humane way of preventing rabies."

Zhang says campaigns educating the public about the benefits of vaccinating dogs in urban areas have worked to prevent rabies outbreaks. But she says there are reports that few people in Mouding County, where the government cull took place, even knew about the vaccine.

In addition to vaccinating dogs against rabies, humans can be protected if bite victims receive a series of injections. However, there are reports that in rural China few medical facilities have the expensive drugs.