The city of Jiangmen, in China’s Guangdong province, is dealing with an increase in rabies cases by banning residents in certain parts of the city from keeping dogs. Citing 42 rabies deaths in the past 3 years, Jiangmen will only allow dogs to be kept in the city’s most densely populated areas by people who have been granted licenses. These licenses will only, according to the China Daily, be given to people who need security for warehouses or businesses.
What will happen to the estimated 30,000 dogs that are currently being kept as pets in Jiangmen? Residents have been given the opportunity to take their pets to drop-off sites starting next week, where they will either be adopted by rural families (sounds like the old excuse, “the dog just went to a farm upstate”) or euthanized. After August 26, city officials will begin catching and putting down any dogs that they find in public.
“Our aim is not to kill all the dogs in the city’s urban areas, but we hope to create a better environment for the city by banning the keeping of dogs,” said one police officer.
Experts say that this move will have very little effect on the rabies problem in China, which is admittedly serious. A 2009 report claimed that of China’s 75 million dogs, only a fifth had been vaccinated for rabies, an alarming statistic given that 40 million people were bitten by animals that year. China follows only India in rabies-related deaths, so clearly this is a public health issue that needs to be dealt with.
Banning and euthanizing thousands of pet dogs, however, is not the solution. In fact, according to many, vaccination is the only way to contain rabies. ”Decades of research internationally have shown culling is absolutely ineffective in controlling rabies,” Dr Kati Loeffler, veterinary adviser for the International Fund for Animal Welfare in China, told the Guardian. She added that vaccination and education were far better paths.
Others criticized the measure from an ethical perspective, saying that it was not humane to euthanize such a large number of animals, while still more questioned whether the new policy could be effectively enforced. ”This [ban] is not scientific, not humane, and it will not last long. In short term, maybe it could be effective, but after that, people still want to keep dogs,” said Dr Tang Qing of China’s Center for Disease Control. “People won’t accept it and implementing it will be difficult – you can’t break down doors to seize and kill dogs.”
Certainly, it seems distinctly possible that pet owners will try to hide their dogs rather than allow them to be put down. From a public health perspective, that doesn’t solve the problem; in fact, it de-incentivizes people from getting their dogs vaccinated because if they take them outside, they could be confiscated.
Leaving ethics aside, this is an unworkable, impractical plan. But factor in the fact that we’re talking about killing thousands of people’s pets, and it makes even less sense. Does the Chinese government really think that it can contain rabies by banning and euthanizing dogs? A large-scale vaccination and education program would be more time-consuming, but according to Qing, it would actually be less expensive than the planned euthanizations. And it would do far more to improve Chinese citizens’ safety, health, and general well-being.
Rabies is a serious problem in China, but the large-scale killing of dogs is not the solution.
Photo from Nathan R. Yergler via Creative Commons Labs.