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September 10, 2010

Making China’s Indiscriminate Dog Culls History

The second China Dog Management Symposium

Humane Society International

  • John Snyder of The HSUS addresses symposium attendees. Xiamen APEC 2010

  • Ribbon-cutting to present HSI-donated dog agility training tools to Nanjing Police Shelter. Xiamen APEC 2010

  • John Snyder speaks with reporters. Nanjing Police Department

  • Audience at the symposium. Nanjing Police Department

by Peter Li and John Snyder

Urban dog management is a new challenge for Chinese authorities. Three decades of rapid economic growth have produced a swelling community of animal lovers in China. Pet dog ownership has mushroomed in the nation’s cities. According to a recent estimate, China has more than 150 million dogs; yet dog management in much of the country has remained primitive, even draconian.

Facing an increasingly evident street dog problem, most Chinese communities have no workable, humane solutions. Eyewitness reports depict horrendous conditions in the dog shelters maintained by local police departments. In townships without such shelters, law enforcement agents resort to brutal force, often killing street animals and “problem” dogs in broad daylight and in front of the horrified public.

China’s indiscriminate dog culls are painful to animal lovers around the world. Dog biting incidents or a few suspected cases of rabies are enough to sentence tens of thousands of dogs in a community to death in government-orchestrated slaughter campaigns. Not too long ago, two highly controversial culling operations brutalized some 60,000 and 38,000 dogs in Yunnan and Shaanxi, respectively, triggering worldwide condemnation. Sadly, such a medieval approach to animal control continues.

Working for change

HSI is working to facilitate positive change in China’s animal management policies. In collaboration with Hong Kong-based Animals Asia Foundation (AAF), Nanjing Ping An A Fu Animal Protection Group (PAAFAPG), and the Nanjing police department, HSI co-sponsored the “Second China Dog Management Symposium” in Nanjing, China, August 23-24, 2010. Compared with the first such symposium, attended by police officers from seven cities, this year’s event was a greatly enlarged gathering, drawing police officers from 27 cities.

This symposium was designed specifically to impact Chinese law enforcement. HSI firmly believes that efforts in China should both enhance the capacity of Chinese NGOs and help change the mind-set of the Chinese government. To achieve these objectives, it is important to include in the conversation Chinese police officers who are directly responsible for urban dog management.

The symposium was set up to allow discussion between NGO representatives and police officers. First, it was a platform for Nanjing Police Department to showcase its experience in policy-making, problem dog handling, shelter management, and partnership with local animal protection NGOs. We believe that Nanjing’s experience of combining international best practices with local Chinese conditions can be a good model. Second, the symposium was a setting for foreign and Hong Kong NGO representatives to introduce modern dog management policies [PDF], practices and practical skills from places outside mainland China. Presentations from HSI, AAF and Hong Kong SPCA representatives were well-tailored to encourage the spread of Nanjing’s positive experience and to discourage outdated practices still going on in most of the country.

Take-home messages

The two-day symposium drove home important messages. First, as the experience of Nanjing’s police department has suggested, law enforcement agencies have an unshakable responsibility in local law-making so that practical and enforceable dog regulations can be created. Police officers cannot sit back and await the passage of ordinances. They should proactively influence law-making.

Second, enforcement agencies have an equally important service responsibility to fulfill in matters such as dog registration, vaccination and sterilization. The maintenance by Nanjing’s police department of least one registration station in each district not only provides convenience to dog owners, but also succeeds in increasing the dog registration rate. Importantly, enhanced service capacity serves to better prevent rabies and curb the dog population, thus precluding the need for drastic and controversial culling measures.

Third, there is more than one approach to dealing with “problem” dogs. The methods employed for handling such dogs can be diametrically different. Nanjing Police Department has dropped the forceful approach of carrying out indiscriminate dog culls. Instead, problem dogs are humanely captured, isolated, watched for behavioral evaluation, quarantined if necessary, and trained for re-homing or other purposes.

Fourth, police shelters cannot be hellholes for street animals. They do not have to be kept away from public scrutiny. The more inaccessible the shelters are, the more suspicious the public becomes. Nanjing’s police-run shelter allows access by citizens and local NGOs alike for adoption and other reasons. It also implements a program of euthanasia, a practice still controversial in China, to end the suffering of dogs who are terminally ill or in conditions beyond any realistic chance of recovery.

Finally, law enforcement agencies and animal protection groups are not enemies. They are mutually complementary partners, pursuing the same objective. As the Nanjing police experience has demonstrated, local NGOs have skills in dog capture, animal care, appeals to support groups, and access to a broad community that is helpful for public education. Partnership serves rather than hinders urban animal management.

HSI’s record

On behalf of our constituents, we have done all we can to make known HSI’s position on humane animal management. In May-June 2009 when the Hanzhong dog cull happened, HSI stood firm, sending an open letter [PDF] to Chinese officials with arguments against such an outdated and ineffective approach to rabies control. In August 2009, when Nanjing Police Department’s humane handling of a problem dog was criticized in the local media, HSI voiced our support for such a new progressive approach. And, in September 2009, HSI led a team of international and Chinese NGO representatives in a fact-finding mission to Nanjing. That visit was the harbinger to this year’s symposium.

The Second China Dog Management Symposium gave HSI the opportunity to introduce American urban animal management practices to Chinese police officers. In his presentation, John Snyder, Vice President of Companion Animals for The Humane Society of the United States, indirectly but unequivocally encouraged the adoption of the experience of the Nanjing police department. “Dog management is the government’s responsibility,” he stated. A scientific and forward-looking dog management plan calls for government action through legislation, education and sterilization so that active cruelty, i.e., dog culls, or passive cruelty in the form of neglect can be prevented. HSI made it clear that forceful measures to control dog numbers and to handle street animals do not belong in a rapidly modernizing society. Instead, a well-managed program for vaccination and sterilization better serves the need for animal population control.

Admittedly, the two-day symposium is not enough to end China’s controversial dog culls and other cruel practices. However, it may have planted a seed among the attendees regarding the validity of the existing policies towards urban animals in their respective cities. Change takes time. And, change faces many obstacles. Yet, change is inevitable since the obstacles are not insurmountable. The experience of Nanjing Police Department, imperfect as it is, can be and should be reproduced in other Chinese cities. HSI is committed to the spread of a humane, scientific and culturally appropriate urban dog management model to the rest of the country.

We see hope. A country that was able to abolish the brutal foot-binding practice more than a century ago shall be able to phase out its medieval dog management practices in the years to come.

Dr. Peter Li is HSI's China Specialist. John Snyder is Vice President of Companion Animals for The Humane Society of the United States.