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September 22, 2009

HSI in Nanjing: Working to End Dog Culls in China

Humane Society International

To animal lovers around the world, China’s medieval urban animal control measures are in sharp contrast to the pace of its economic transformation. Government-ordered dog culls, a reactive response to rabies cases (real or suspected), have brought waves of international condemnation. The most recent mass dog killing in Hanzhong, Shaanxi Province, highlighted China’s ineffective and costly urban animal management practices.

While HSI and other animal welfare organizations have urged Chinese authorities to make dog culls history, we know very well that condemnations alone are not enough. There is much more we can do to help create conditions for a sea change in the way China handles such situations.

Nanjing: model city

On September 6, 2009, an HSI-coordinated six-member team began a two-day meeting with the Nanjing Police Department (NPD). The team, including representatives from Animals Asia Foundation and the Hong Kong SPCA, was composed of animal welfare specialists, veterinarians, and animal inspectors.

Nanjing, some 400 miles west of Shanghai, is a sprawling modern city of six million residents. A former capital of China, Nanjing has a tradition of openness to the outside world which has been reflected in NPD’s new approaches to urban animal management. The goals of our trip were to learn the details of those approaches, visit NPD’s shelter, and discuss with NPD our experiences in the U.S. and Hong Kong.

Nanjing police department

Having seen the negative consequences of dog culls, Nanjing has adopted a proactive approach aimed at minimizing the chances of dog-related incidents. NPD emphasizes public education, with the aim of having dog owners register, vaccinate and sterilize their animals. Nanjing's dog registration fee is the cheapest in China at only 300 yuan (compared with 1000 in Beijing and 4000 in many other cities).

To achieve this, NDP maintains dog registration offices throughout the city, with staff for handling dog identification and vaccination tasks. There is also a mobile registration vehicle which travels to Nanjing’s various districts to make registration easier. To reduce tensions between dog lovers and their opponents, NPD is encouraging neighborhoods to create separate sections in community parks where people can to walk their dogs.

At the request of Ping An A Fu Group, a local animal protection organization, NPD has vowed to avoid using brutal force in animal capture. NPD has also built a police-run shelter to deal with abandoned animals.

Importantly, NPD also intervened to help change the city’s policy regarding the permissible height of pet dogs. At their insistence, the suggested 35 cm height limit was increased to 61 cm, helping prevent public resistance to the rule.

Initial results

NPD’s proactive measures have produced positive results. Half of the dogs in the core area of Nanjing are vaccinated, one of the highest rates in the country. Meanwhile, NPD has applied to the municipal government for special funds to vaccinate the 60,000 dogs in suburban areas.

Nanjing’s dog management policy is among the most progressive in China. Identification microchips are implanted at the time of registration. Dog registration fees are reduced for dog owners who are sight-impaired, senior in age and/or who have sterilized and vaccinated their pets.

Most commendable is that the police shelter is open to the public seven days a week. Ping An A Fu Group has ready access to the shelter, and keeps a watchful eye on it. A leading NPD official has acknowledged that “incidents involving dogs cannot be blamed on the dogs… They are often the result of irresponsible humans.”

Sharing of experience

The most important part of our two-day meeting was a round-table session with some 30 NPD police officers—those in charge of animal control and management in their respective neighborhoods of jurisdiction. Their daily responsibilities include responding to dog bite incidents and requests for animal rescue and stray animal control, as well as resolution of conflicts between dog owners and others.

Peter Li, HSI's China policy specialist, gave a 20-minute presentation on the U.S. experience with urban animal management which positively affirmed and encouraged the practices of NPD:

  • Urban animal management is the government’s responsibility.
  • The value of government spending on animal management cannot be gauged by amount of money alone.
  • Proactive measures, such as vaccination, sterilization, and public education, can preclude or minimize outbreaks of major public health crises, rendering drastic reactive measures such as dog culls unnecessary.
  • Law enforcement agencies should wisely utilize the expertise of local animal protection groups.
  • Law enforcement agencies also have the responsibility to encourage responsible pet ownership.

During the meeting, two Hong Kong SPCA inspectors also demonstrated humane methods of dog trapping.

Observations

NPD’s urban animal management contrasts with the practices common in much of the rest of China. While there is room for improvement, it signifies a change in attitude. It is important that Chinese domestic and international animal advocacy NGOs encourage this positive change with the aim of making NPD a model for law enforcement agencies around the country.

HSI welcomes the progressive actions taken by NPD. We see our visit as a first step towards a long-term cooperation in helping spread Nanjing’s experience to the rest of China.

Dog culls are ineffective, unpopular, destabilizing, and damaging to China’s international image. NPD’s approach is a much better solution.

Dr. Peter Li, HSI China Specialist, contributed to this story.