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Urban Jungle

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 May, 2016, 2:05pm


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I watched a recently made documentary the other day about a film crew's experience in a Himalayan village in China, where they stayed for a whole year. They were documenting what life was like for the people there over the changing course of the seasons. Mostly they were concentrating on the life of the local people and the mysterious life of the monks who live there.

During the course of the documented year there was going to be a visit from the current Panchen Lama. This was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the monks at this particular monastery. Apparently this was the first visit by such a high lama for nearly a century. The imminent arrival really stirred up a hornets' nest of activity in preparation for the important guest.

One thing obvious throughout the documentary was the ever-present stray mongrels. In many of the broader street scenes there were stray dogs wandering about or sun-baking. It's no surprise that the monks in the past welcomed the dogs and, not wanting to waste any food, fed them leftovers. A very Buddhist attitude indeed. Also to no one's surprise, feeding stray dogs attracts more stray dogs and, in time, the monks of this monastery were regularly feeding more than 50 stray animals.

In the course of the documentary the lamas expressed their inability to deal with the problem of stray dogs. The dogs were unsightly and messed up the courtyard, not surprising given the rather large pack. They eventually decided it would be inappropriate for stray dogs to be roaming the compound when the Panchen Lama arrived. They decided to herd them into a yard out the back where they would not be seen.

This was easier said than done. The dogs were not domesticated and would only eat what was given to them once their feeders left. This is a good instinct for survival in a country where dog hot pot is on the menus of affluent restaurants. These dogs will not come when called, and you can't herd dogs like cattle; it just doesn't work that way. After spending hours trying to catch the dogs and only managing to nab two, with more than 50 to go, someone decided to drug them, thinking that making them drowsy would make them easier to catch. From a veterinary perspective, this seems impractical, as even a drugged wild dog will not come quietly most of the time, not to mention the danger of feeding potentially lethal drugs to animals of unknown health status.

They hid the drug, which wasn't identified, in some rice and fed it to some of the dogs. As I suspected, it really didn't help and the dogs still ran away, even more confused now that they were all wobbly from being drugged. To the monks' dismay, these drugged animals staggered away faster than any human could run. This is when things went from the absurd to the outright inhumane. The sun was setting fast and patience was wearing thin. The monks and bystanders decided to use brute force.

It is really surprising, depressing sometimes, that peace-loving people will resort to violence as a solution to a problem. They found long and hefty logs, each the size of a street signpost, and after chasing the dogs around they managed to catch one of the stragglers and pounded it into submission. The sight of monks, their crimson and ochre robes flapping in the wind, carrying logs and bashing dogs was the most ridiculous I have ever experienced. It was beyond words and reason that monks of the Buddhist faith, whose primary tenet is not to cause suffering to other living things and who normally live the life of a vegan, were beating dogs to death. Being a Buddhist myself, I found this particularly unsettling. It is just terrorism on a smaller scale.

This story may be a shock to readers. The graphic, absurd and casual nature of the story highlights the cruelty that occurs not only on the mainland but in many other poorer countries around the world and occasionally even in Hong Kong. There has been an outcry of late over mass culls of dogs in mainland cities. In fear of rabies and other diseases, residents have been mobilised to kill every dog they can lay their hands on. Ironically, the decaying bodies of the dead dogs pose more of a health risk than the live dogs, threatening to pollute the local water supply.

It is even sadder when you understand that no cull will ever be successful in the medium or long term. There is simply no way you can kill all the stray dogs even in a small area. Any cull of this sort will only cause short-term suffering for the animals. The methods used to kill the dogs are barbaric and cruel - it shouldn't be allowed in the modern age, and what has been done to animals during these culls would be a criminal offence in almost all affluent countries. It is scary that people can heartlessly pound an animal to death, hearing its screams. The silence of bystanders to allow such atrocities to occur is equally deafening.