The city of Jiangmen in southern China has banned pet dogs, leaving tens of thousands facing a cull unless they can find new homes.
City officials said they are concerned about rabies cases and the general state of the city. However, animal lovers have reacted angrily and a disease-control expert warned the tactic, which will affect 30,000 animals, is unscientific, inhumane and short-term.
Any dogs seen in the Pengjiang, Jianghai and Xinhui districts after Aug. 26 will be seized or killed, city officials say. Guard dogs will be allowed, but only for companies with property worth at least 5 million yuan (US$777,000).
The Jiangmen Daily said officials aimed to “prevent and control rabies, maintain public order and sanitation, and create a sound environment for the people,” adding that 42 out of the city’s 4 million residents had died from rabies in the past three years.
“Dogs found with diseases will be euthanized in a humanitarian manner. We will sign agreements with owners before putting down their dogs,” Li Wantong, technology director at an animal disease control center in Jiangmen, told the Global Times.
“We will try to find solutions for healthy ones, as we do not have the capacity to keep a large number,” Li said.
Some residents back the move, with one complaining to the newspaper: “[Dog] excrement is everywhere in the courtyard and parks, and their barking always disrupts my sleep.”
However, a poodle owner said: “Banning all pet dogs, taking them away and killing them is a bit too much.”
Dog ownership has soared as Chinese incomes have risen over the past few decades and there is growing interest in animal rights, particularly among the middle class.
“This [ban] is not scientific, not humane, and it will not last long. In the short term, maybe it could be effective, but after that, people still want to keep dogs,” said Tang Qing of the National Institute for Viral Disease Control and Prevention at China’s Center for Disease Control.
He added that a vaccination program for dogs would be cheaper and more effective.
China has the world’s second-highest death toll from rabies after India, with cases rising sharply in the past decade, possibly due to increasing pet ownership and rising healthcare costs.
The health ministry says 3,300 people died of the disease in 2007, although the toll fell to 2,466 in 2008 and experts believe the worst may be over.
A 2009 ministry report said only one-fifth of China’s 75 million dogs were vaccinated against the disease. It also said that 40 million people a year were bitten by animals.
Kati Loeffler, a veterinary adviser for the International Fund for Animal Welfare in China, said: “Decades of research internationally have shown culling is absolutely ineffective in controlling rabies — the only way to control it is through mass vaccination.”
Two years ago, Hanzhong in Shaanxi Province enraged animal lovers by announcing it had culled 36,000 stray and pet dogs.