For the second time in days, Chinese authorities have ordered a mass slaughter of dogs to curb a rabies outbreak — drawing criticism from animal lovers but also support from many who say it’s the only way to contain a disease that kills more than 2,000 Chinese a year.
Officials in the eastern city of Jining plan to kill all dogs within three miles of areas where rabies has been found, the official Xinhua News Agency said Friday.
The measure came in response to the deaths of 16 people from rabies in Jining in the last eight months, Xinhua said. It didn’t say when the slaughter would begin or how the animals would be killed. It said the city had about 500,000 dogs.
Rabies cases are on the rise in China, with 2,651 reported deaths from the disease in 2004, the last year for which data was available. Only 3 percent of the country’s dogs are vaccinated against rabies.
Previous massacre heavily criticized
Last week, a county in southwestern Yunnan province killed 50,000 dogs, many of them beaten to death in front of their owners, after three people died of rabies.
The slaughters have outraged animal rights groups, who call them cruel and a sign of government incompetence in dealing with rabies, an often fatal disease that attacks the nervous system but which can be warded off with a series of injections.
“I think this is completely insane,” said Zhang Luping, founder of the Beijing Human and Animal Environmental Education Center.
“What’s more, this really damages our national image and sets a really bad example to show how lazy and inconsiderate those local government officials are,” Zhang said.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals called such killings a “hideously cruel response,” in a statement on its Web site.
After last week’s slaughter, the group canceled about $300,000 orders for merchandise made in China and called for a boycott of Chinese-made products to protest what it calls widespread cruelty to animals in the country.
The killings in Yunnan prompted unusually pointed criticism in state media, with many commentators saying it signaled how little capacity the local government had to deal with routine health issues.
Other slaughters have been reported elsewhere in China this year, although the government says it has no standard policy of destroying dogs.
Zhang, the founder of the Beijing education center, said there were no laws under which citizens could stop the killings. However, she said she and other animal protection activists were reaching out through the media to try to change policy.
“I think this brutal and cold-blooded campaign should stop as soon as possible,” Zhang said.
People who answered the phone at Jining’s city government and the epidemic control center refused to comment or said they weren’t authorized to release information to the media.
The World Health Organization has not directly criticized the slaughters, but WHO experts have said they underscore a lack of coordination and other problems within China’s health care system.
The killings have also prompted a slew of impassioned postings in online forums.
“Tens of thousands of people die in traffic accidents each year, but we don’t ban cars. Dogs are simply easy to persecute,” said one unsigned posting on Xinhua’s electronic bulletin board.
“People opposed to killing dogs ought to think how they’d feel if they or a relative was infected with rabies. Are people’s or dogs’ lives more important?” said another, also unsigned.