Outrage as 60,000 dogs killed in attempt to control rabies

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 July, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 July, 2003, 12:00am

About 60,000 dogs have been put to death in Guangdong in recent days in an effort to control a rabies outbreak, angering pet lovers and animal experts.

'I believe all life forms should be given due respect. We have to handle this more objectively,' said Jiang Haisheng, a scientist at the Guangdong Institute of Entomology.

'Whatever problem we have now, we resort to killing animals,' Dr Jiang said, pointing to the culling of cows and chickens because of mad-cow disease and avian flu. 'If we kill some dogs, what is there to guarantee that the remaining dogs are not diseased?'

He suggested that instead of resorting to drastic actions such as mass killings, authorities should regulate the keeping of pets so owners would be forced to take their animals for regular health inspections.

The Guangdong health department issued an emergency order last Friday, ordering the killing of all dogs in areas affected by rabies within a week and banning imports of dogs for a year.

The rabies outbreak started in January, state media reported, and 74 people were infected in the first six months of the year.

Media reports said that in Maoming, where there had been 32 confirmed cases of rabies, 6,850 dogs had been killed. In Lianjiang, where there have been eight cases, 52,614 dogs were killed.

Rabies killed thousands of people in Guangdong in the 1980s, but it was largely eradicated by 1996.

The rise in the number of cases has corresponded with an increase in the number of people keeping dogs as pets. Some reports have said 18 per cent of dogs in Guangdong carry the disease.

Animal lover Chen Peiru, a businesswoman who made an appeal at a public forum last week for the better treatment of pets in the wake of the Sars outbreak, said she was shocked to hear that so many dogs had been killed. 'I hope they can find a better solution to the problem. It can't be so simple,' she said.

A World Health Organisation rabies expert, Yon Jan B. Fleerackers, said the health department was 'doing the right thing for emergency intervention, but not the right thing for long-term intervention'.

He said the WHO advocated other methods of controlling stray dogs, such as catching them and quarantining to see if they were diseased, or sterilisation.

Health department spokesman Feng Shaomin said many people did not vaccinate their animals and kept dogs illegally because of prohibitive licence fees - a dog permit costs 10,000 yuan (HK$9,400).

'People say [killing the dogs] is cruel, but we don't have any other way of dealing with this. It's not like everyone is cultured like in the west. People do not take the initiative to do the right thing ... so what happens if their dogs go out and bite someone?

'We've got to use a heavy-handed approach, like we deal with murderers,' Dr Feng said.

People can be vaccinated against rabies, but the vaccine is expensive and in short supply.