People in China and other Asian countries are dying of rabies. But it’s not because dogs are biting them — it’s because they are biting dogs, eating 18-80 million a year just in China.
“Rabies is a major problem in China. The country’s Ministry of Health says it has the second highest rate in the world after India.” And it’s getting worse. Human rabies cases appear to be on the rise in China based on the most recent numbers available. “In 2007, there were 3,302 confirmed human rabies cases in China, nearly 21 times the number found from the entire period between 1990 and 1996.”
It’s not just eating the meat that causes rabies. Slaughtering, processing and cooking it may be even more dangerous. After a rabies outbreak led to human fatalities in Vietnam, government officials “reported that 70% of deaths were from dog bites but up to 30% were thought to be linked to exposure during slaughter or butchery.”
“In a March 17 study from Hanoi published by the PLoS Medicine magazine, researchers pointed to two cases of human rabies in Vietnam where the patients were believed infected while butchering a rabid animal — in one case a dog, the other a cat.”
“In the first patient’s case, he had prepared and eaten a dog that had been killed in a road traffic accident; rabid dogs were known to inhabit the neighbourhood. The second patient had butchered and eaten a cat that had been sick for a number of days.” Other people who ate the same meat did not fall ill.
Wellcome Trust explains the severity of rabies in humans:
Rabies is a very serious – and in nearly all cases fatal – disease. It is estimated to kill over 30,000 people each year in Asia, and the number of cases in China and Viet Nam is increasing. Symptoms include agitation, severe spasms, fever, fear of water and inability to drink liquids, and eventually death.
There is a vaccine for rabies and even a treatment that can cure the disease after infection, but it must be administered very quickly after the patient contracts rabies. “Once a person shows symptoms, the disease is almost invariably fatal.”
Video courtesy of NutritionFacts.org
How Butchering Dogs and Cats Transfers Rabies to Humans
Change for Animals, an international animal welfare group, reports:
During the slaughtering process, rabies can be passed to humans several ways: 1. Dogs butchered for meat are often highly stressed and are more likely to bite and scratch handlers, potentially passing on this fatal disease. 2. Rabies can spread through the contamination of unrecognised cuts or abrasions on skin as infected carcasses are handled. 3. Individuals slaughtering dogs can also transmit the virus to themselves if they touch their eyes or lips while having traces of the dog’s fluids on their hands.
In one slaughterhouse in Vietnam, 20% of the dogs tested positive for rabies. “Research highlights that the slaughtering of unvaccinated rabies reservoir species, such as dogs, in areas where the disease is prevalent poses a significant risk to human health.” Therefore, in “recognition of the risk the slaughtering of dogs poses, workers in slaughterhouses in the area are vaccinated against the disease as part of the national programme for rabies control and prevention.”
How Dogs Contract Rabies
Dogs killed for meat come from a few different sources. One is stray or feral dogs nabbed on the street. Another is stolen pets. A third is dog farms.
“Large-scale dog farms are common in South Korea and China, with some housing thousands of dogs. These are mostly unregulated and there are no or few enforced recommendations for dog farm management, such as measures for disease control, provision of suitable animal feed, disposal of waste etc…[B]ecause of the stressful and cramped farming conditions, dogs frequently fight.” It is no surprise that rabies spreads from one dog to another in these environments.
Transporting dogs to slaughter creates another opportunity for rabies to spread among animals, as well as to humans. The founder and CEO of the Animals Asia Foundation, a Hong Kong-based animal advocacy group, says that risk is worst where dogs “are caged transported and kept in the markets en masse. Many are wounded as a result of inappropriate handling and the abuse they receive at the hands of the traders, and the rabies virus can easily spread through bites or scratches or even from saliva entering open wounds.”
Beliefs that Dog Meat is Medicinal
Despite the risks many people continue to eat dog meat because they believe it “enhances health and longevity.” People in cold climates, like some Chinese, believe it increases body heat; those in warm climates, like South Koreans, consider it cooling. Dog penis is eaten as an aphrodisiac. The “penis and testes are believed to increase virility and cure impotence.” Dogs’ bones are believed to be anti-inflammatory, and some doctors prescribe dog meat to aid recovery from surgery. These convictions, though without scientific support, make it hard to persuade people not to eat dogs.
That doesn’t mean no one is fighting the practice of eating dogs — quite the contrary. In 2011, for example, “Beijing activists intercepted and eventually rescued a truck carrying approximately 500 dogs from Henan province to dog meat restaurants in Jilin province.” In another rescue, the Animals Asia Foundation, which rescues farmed animals across Asia, saved 149 dogs from meat markets. They had to euthanize 100 of the dogs, “mainly for disease.” None were confirmed to have rabies (it isn’t clear whether they were tested for it), but the fact that two-thirds of the dogs were that sick illustrates the kind of conditions they were forced to live in.
It isn’t just animal activists who are fighting against eating dogs. In 2010, a law professor sponsored a “formal proposal to ban the eating of dogs” that was submitted to China’s semi-independent legislature, the National People’s Congress. The proposal “survived two rounds of public comment,” though it never made it into law. “Other developed countries have animal protection laws,” the professor, Chang Jiwen, said. “With China developing so quickly, and more and more people keeping pets, more people should know how to treat animals properly.”
In fact, there already is a legal solution to closing down a large part of the dog meat industry, if only it were enforced. Most dogs arrive at meat markets from other provinces, and “Chinese law requires vaccination of any dogs moving interstate.” However, Chinese law forbids the “vaccination of animals who are to be eaten. No exemptions are granted to permit interstate movement of animals who are to be eaten.” So dog traders must vaccinate a dog to get it to a market in another province, but then the dog can’t be eaten.
Attorneys have made the obvious conclusion: “Chinese rabies control law actually prohibits the entire interstate dog meat trade, which they identified as a probable major vector for translocation of rabies.” All that has to happen is for the laws to be enforced, but that will be no mean feat.
Whether through laws, moral pressure or education, the growing affluent, pet-loving, urban middle class in China is ready for dog-eating to go the way of foot-binding. “Beijing dogs have, as in the West, become objects of affection — even devotion — by their owners,” changing attitudes about cats and dogs. “Online petitions against dog and cat consumption have attracted tens of thousands of signatures. Videos showing the maltreatment of farmed dogs have spurred protests at markets where the animals are bought and sold.”
“Whether you judge this as a question of food security or emotions, there is absolutely no necessity in China for people to eat dogs and cats,” said Zeng Li, the founder of the Lucky Cats shelter in Beijing.
But then, there is no necessity in any country for people to eat any animal. “This is absurd. Why only dogs and cats? How about pigs, cows and sheep,” wrote an online commenter on the Xhinua news agency website. Animal Asia Foundation’s CEO notes that no “government in the world has devised ‘humane’ methods of raising and slaughtering dogs and cats en masse.” The same is true for all other animals, despite some governments’ claims to the contrary.
Photo credit: Facts and Details
Chinese pet lovers are particularly outraged by dog culls, when government authorities round up and kill thousands of dogs in what they say is an effort to stem the spread of rabies. The culls usually require the execution of every dog in an area, including pets.
“In August 2006, authorities called for a massive slaughter of dogs to stem an outbreak of rabies in the eastern city of Jining. Officials there ordered that all dogs found within a five kilometer radius of an area where rabies was found must be killed. A few days later 50,0000 dogs were killed in similar effort in Yunnan Province. Many of the dogs were clubbed to death in front of their owners.” According to a government official, clubbing had been chosen as the method of execution “because it was the most practical.”
During the cull, some dogs “were rooted out at night by making noises to get them barking. Only military and police dogs were [spared]. Sixteen people had died from rabies over eight months n the Jining area.”
Culls have “outraged” many Chinese. ”Internet chat lines were filled with chatter on the topic. Pet lovers launched petitions demanding that the killing be stopped. Humane societies filed law suits against the government for demanding the deaths of animals that had been vaccinated against rabies.”
“Periodic dog culls in rabies-hit areas have not stopped its spread” but have spurred many Chinese to action. “The far northeastern town of Heihe was forced…after public outcry to reverse its plan to kill every dog in the city, instead allowing each family to keep one small dog.”
Many areas have adopted this rule in imitation of the one-child rule, and dog owners have reacted with similar vehemence against it. “These dogs are like family. How can you keep one and get rid of the others?” said Mrs Chen, a middle-aged housewife from Guangzhou. Mrs Chen is the owner of two dogs – a Pekingese mix and a terrier mutt – and would not give her full name because she feared that she might be traced by authorities who would then take one of her dogs.
As more people come to know and love dogs and cats, opposition to eating them will grow. But until that time comes, countless more animals will be killed, and more people will die of an easily preventable disease.