A large-scale dog cull is in the making in the quake-stricken area of Qingchuan county as sanitation officials insist dogs could play a key role in exacerbating any post-disaster epidemics. Police have been clearly instructed to kill dogs they encounter, irrespective of whether they are with their owners. 'The order was passed down on Sunday saying we should kill dogs while keeping an eye on local security,' police officer He Yusheng said. Officer He said dogs ate rotten meat and, in a city where an unknown number of people were still buried in the debris, killing the animals could be a good way of preventing the spread of epidemics. Police were told to kill dogs primarily with sticks or similar tools to avoid unnecessary pain, but they could use other means if dogs ran away too quickly, he said, without elaborating. Night-shift officers in Qingchuan have been equipped with sub-machine guns to deter looters. Officer He said he had not killed any dogs so far because he had not seen any. The bodies of dogs, in particular, and other pets like cats and rabbits littered the remains of buildings. Some dogs were heard desperately barking inside locked buildings, abandoned by owners who ran for their lives. An epidemic-prevention official from Xian in Shaanxi said dog culls were unavoidable given the animal's role in spreading epidemics. 'Everyone knows dogs will eat meat and other stuff wherever they go. As dogs run around the city, they could easily spread the disease to other places, especially the populous areas,' the official said. Volunteer and dog lover Zhang Yue rescued two homeless dogs from quake-stricken areas to Chengdu . 'I will get them checked before taking them home. Dogs did nothing wrong in this natural disaster and should not be the scapegoat,' she said. Rumours were circulating that soldiers would be sent in to kill dogs when epidemic prevention becomes the top priority, but at least one group of soldiers stationed near a bridge in Qingchuan had not heard of such an order. Several soldiers said they saw dogs as friends and would do whatever was right for disaster relief. A PLA officer at the Qingchuan disaster relief headquarters said he had heard about a dog-killing case in a nearby town, but it was purely because the dog was biting villagers. 'We have not heard we should assist local governments to kill dogs. Our job is saving people and helping them rebuild homes, not something as bizarre as killing dogs,' he said.