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June 8, 2009

Dog Killing Has No Place in a Modernizing China

Humane Society International

by Peter Li, HSI China Specialist

China’s integration into the modern world has not been easy and smooth. Setbacks have characterized its modernization. Yet no regression, however formidable, has been able to reverse the tide of progress. The latest mass dog killing in Yangxian County of China’s Shaanxi province is one remaining roadblock. It is a last-ditch struggle put up by the forces of the past.

The situation

Yangxian, a city of 430,000 residents, lies in southern Shaanxi, famous for its terra cotta warriors buried with China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, a brutal tyrant. There, in recent weeks, the local authority jumpstarted a mass dog killing program by alleging that more than 300 people had been bitten by stray dogs and that two had died of dog-bite-caused rabies. Years of mismanagement or lack of management have led to an overpopulation of dogs in this inland city. Concerned citizens and animal protection advocates have long witnessed the suffering of street dogs feeding on garbage and enduring abuse of all kinds. The local authorities’ dog cull order, for controlling an alleged rabies epidemic, is, to many, a well-planned assault on all the city's dogs and dog owners.

The people's suspicions of the true intent of the cull have been confirmed. The authorities are not simply targeting street dogs. They demanded that dog owners kill their pets within two days or surrender them to be killed by the military police at a cost of 100 yuan ($16) each. Widespread resistance to the government order was not surprising. To break the resistance, dog killing squad teams composed of government officials were hastily set up and tasked with exterminating all the dogs in designated districts. The squad team members cannot return home, according to a government order, until they finish killing the last dog in the districts to which they were assigned.

Public reaction

Images sent from Yangxian are heart-wrenching. Truckloads of dead dogs and severely traumatized dogs regaining consciousness have evoked outcries and anger. One animal protection advocate stated: “My husband could not sleep for several nights. What he had in his mind were the blood trails on the ground, dying dogs taking a last look at this not-so-friendly world, and the wailing howls of the dogs pinned down by the police.” During this killing spree, some 20,000 dogs have reportedly died a brutal death.

Yangxian’s dog massacre is anathema to the Chinese public. Animal lovers have condemned this senseless and indiscriminate killing. Animal protection groups are converging from all directions to Xi’an, the provincial capital, to petition against these events. An online opinion poll shows that 71.12 percent of the surveyed oppose the slaughter.

Government-orchestrated dog killing is not new. Under Mao (1949-1976), China adopted the most brutal urban animal control policy. “Mass dog killing campaigns,” as they were called, were launched each year. Instead of ending the malfunctioning Stalinist command economy responsible for an impoverished society, Mao’s China resorted to the annual brutal “killing campaigns” to suppress the society’s urge for a better life. Today, pet ownership is legal. Yet, forces of the past are still working to stage a comeback.

HSI takes action

Humane Society International has been monitoring the situation closely. We are in contact with groups in Xi’an, Beijing, and Fujian for the latest developments. We shall join other international animal advocacy NGOs Animals Asia Foundation (AAF), Act Asia and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to submit a statement to the Chinese authorities. Urban animal management must be scientific, humane and long-term in perspective; mass and indiscriminate dog culls do not solve the problem of urban animal overpopulation. A government policy that encourages sterilization, responsible pet ownership, and government-civic group collaboration is the only solution. 

We call on Yangxian authorities to immediately end the slaughter, compensate families whose registered dogs have been killed, and sit down with animal protection groups to design a humane and scientific animal management policy. We also appeal to the Chinese national government to start the process for drafting China’s first anti-cruelty law. 

Massive dog killing should be made history. A modernizing China has no place for such insensitive massacres.

As part of our efforts to prevent future dog culls, Humane Society International is reaching out to government officials responsible for the pet and homeless animal management in China. HSI is offering its experience and expertise to develop a humane management program in China for companion animals. We are also helping to empower and educate the many local animal welfare organizations on the ground in China dealing with these issues first-hand.

Finally, we have established a special fund for assisting with the sterilization and vaccination of dogs in China. Donations shall mostly be distributed to Chinese animal protection groups providing care to a large number of abandoned animals who need to be re-homed. With your help, we can continue to work toward making China a more humane place for our animal companions. 

Copies of official letters sent [PDF]:

  • Letter to Mr. Jia Youling, National Chief Veterinarian Officer
  • Letter to Mr. Chen Zhu, Minister of Health
  • Letter to Mr. Yuan Chunqing, Governor of Shaanxi Province; Mr. Hu Runze, Mayor of Hanzhong; Mr Peng Qinghua, Director, Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Area

Humane Society International and The Humane Society of the United States have been working to end dog and cat culls in China since 2006, when the killing of 55,000 dogs in Yunnan Province in a mistaken attempt to stem the spread of rabies provoked local and international outrage.

We have written official letters to both Chinese and American officials and offered $100,000 to establish a collaborative humane animal control program. Our supporters have sent tens of thousands of messages to the Chinese government pleading for an end to this senseless slaughter.

In December 2006, Chinese President Hu Jintao ordered an immediate halt to the dog culls taking place at that time. Since then, dog culls have not been adopted in China’s major cities. The Yangxian killings happening at the moment are a reminder that dog culls have yet to be ended in China’s small and medium-sized cities.

Fortunately, there is hope in the form of a growing animal welfare movement in the country, as evidenced by the enthusiastic participation in HSI-sponsored conferences there. We urge Chinese officials to make this needless cull the last such tragedy.