Dire sit­u­a­tions of small an­i­mals cry out for pet pro­tec­tion laws

Mil­lions of cats and dogs slaugh­tered ev­ery year for food and fur trade, Zhang Lei re­ports

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FOCUS -

One by one, the jog­gers passed Dou Bao, a few giv­ing her a quick glance. She is the queen of the cam­pus sports field at the Univer­sity of In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness and Economics in Bei­jing. She and the hu­mans swap shifts to rule this ter­ri­tory. The hu­mans con­trol the days, she rules the nights.

Dou Bao, whose name means “Bean Bun”, is a cute, brown tabby with a round head and al­mond-shaped eyes com­mon to Chi­nese cats. De­spite be­ing aban­doned, Dou Bao has been lucky. She has found a home on this school cam­pus where the stu­dents who named her are wel­com­ing and a num­ber of com­pas­sion­ate souls feed her ev­ery day.

How­ever, the harsh re­al­ity is that the num­ber of this breed, of­fi­cially known as the Chi­nese Li Hua, are dwin­dling in China ev­ery year, pri­mar­ily be­cause of unchecked in­ter­breed­ing, but also be­cause for­eign breeds are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar and do­mes­tic cats are be­ing pushed aside. Those fac­tors have put a dent in the species, ac­cord­ing to Zhang Liyu, head of the Great Wall China Cat Club in Bei­jing.

The de­cline comes against a back­drop of a surge in pet num­bers in China. There were around 100 mil­lion pet dogs and cats in the coun­try at the end of 2012, six times more than a decade ago, ac­cord­ing to Dog Fan mag­a­zine.

“This is one of the many side ef­fects of the lack of a proper law per­tain­ing to pets. With­out that, there’s no for­mal way to deal with the surge in the num­ber of pets. Hun­dreds of cats and dogs are aban­doned ev­ery day, es­pe­cially Chi­nese breeds. A proper pet law is es­sen­tial to rais­ing aware­ness of the con­di­tions in which they live. The mat­ter is of great im­por­tance for the Chi­nese Li Hua, be­cause it’s the coun­try’s only in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized national breed,” said Zhang.

Rais­ing aware­ness

Af­ter spend­ing nine years pro­mot­ing the breed, the ef­forts of Zhang and her team were fi­nally rewarded when the Chi­nese Li Hua was of­fi­cially ac­cepted by the US Cat Fanciers’ As­so­ci­a­tion in Fe­bru­ary 2010 as an in­de­pen­dent breed, not the re­sult of hy­bridiza­tion. Now cats like Dou Bao are reg­is­tered un­der the of­fi­cial English name and ap­pear in the mis­cel­la­neous class at cat shows.

“This isn’t a case of peo­ple in­sist­ing on pure blood­lines, we sim­ply want Chi­nese breeds that re­tain dis­tinct fea­tures to be rec­og­nized as mem­bers of the global cat fam­ily. They are as cute as any of the fa­mous for­eign breeds,” said Zhang. “We hope that by do­ing so, we can raise pub­lic aware­ness of the liv­ing con­di­tions of th­ese Chi­nese breeds.”

Jiang Hong, di­rec­tor of the South­west China Branch of the China Small An­i­mal Pro­tec­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, said 99 per­cent of the vic­tims of pet abuse and aban­don­ment are Chi­nese breeds and the best way to stop un­con­trolled breed­ing and aban­don­ment is to en­act spe­cific laws to ad­dress the prob­lem.

With the ex­cep­tion of the Law of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China on the Pro­tec­tion of Wildlife, which came into force in 1989, China has no spe­cific laws ded­i­cated to the pro­tec­tion of com­pan­ion an­i­mals. Sev­eral ex­ist­ing laws have clauses re­lat­ing to an­i­mal abuse, in­clud­ing the Rabies Man­age­ment Reg­u­la­tion, un­der which the trans­porta­tion of live an­i­mals re­quires trans­port li­censes and dis­ease im­mu­nity cer­tifi­cates.

Al­though this has put a limit on il­le­gal pet an­i­mal traf­fick­ing to some ex­tent, the past five years have seen an in­crease in the traf­fick­ing of dogs from the ru­ral ar­eas to Bei­jing. In the days when breed­ing was un­reg­u­lated, Pekingese dogs sold for more than 10,000 yuan ($1,633) a decade ago, but now they barely fetch 100 yuan, ac­cord­ing to an in­sider, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity. He es­ti­mated that there are at least 50,000 reg­is­tered pet dogs in Bei­jing, but also around 30,000 strays.

In some re­gions where dis­ease im­mu­nity cer­tifi­cates are easy to ob­tain, some of the traf­fick­ing trade caters di­rectly to restau­rants where the pets are slaugh­tered. The in­sider said 2 mil­lion cats and dogs are slaugh­tered ev­ery year for food and for the fur trade, but ad­mit­ted that his es­ti­mate is most likely a con­ser­va­tive one.

In April 2011, vol­un­teers res­cued 500 dogs be­ing trans­ported on the Bei­jing-Harbin high­way. The an­i­mals were cooped to­gether in poorly made, filthy wire cages. Some had been in­jured as a re­sult and were taken to pet hos­pi­tals. It’s be­lieved that the dogs were be­ing taken to a slaugh­ter­house when they were freed and the truck owner had all the re­quired trans­port cer­tifi­cates.

Dur­ing the month that fol­lowed, 10 pet hos­pi­tals filed law­suits against the China Small An­i­mal As­so­ci­a­tion, which pro­vided aid in hous­ing the res­cued an­i­mals, de­mand­ing treat­ment costs of 50,000 yuan.

“This is a gray area, and de­spite the lax con­trol of cer­tifi­cates in some re­gions, the fun­da­men­tal prob­lem is that un­der the cur­rent reg­u­la­tions, pets are treated as pri­vate prop­erty and there is no le­gal pro­vi­sion in­di­cat­ing their ex­is­tence as liv­ing species,” said Jiang.

To some ob­servers, leg­is­la­tion to pro­tect pets seems like a pipe dream, but in prac­tice, an­i­mal res­cue at the grass root level is at­tract­ing an in­creas­ing amount of pub­lic at­ten­tion.

“In the larger cities, the num­ber of an­i­mal as­sis­tance cen­ters is on the rise and the num­ber of peo­ple par­tic­i­pat­ing to help th­ese stray an­i­mals is grow­ing,” Jiang said.

Fund­ing sources

Chi­nese an­i­mal as­sis­tance cen­ters have three sources of fund­ing. First, they garner do­na­tions from in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the An­i­mal Asia Foun­da­tion in Hong Kong and the In­ter­na­tional Fund for An­i­mal Wel­fare in Bei­jing. The sec­ond source is money gen­er­ated by pub­lic ac­tiv­i­ties, while the fastest­grow­ing source of fund­ing is per­sonal do­na­tions.

Jiang said most an­i­mal as­sis­tance cen­ters won’t ac­cept new an­i­mals when they reach max­i­mum ca­pac­ity. The­o­ret­i­cally, when the num­ber of an­i­mals reaches a cer­tain level, some will be put down to make room for new­com­ers.

“How­ever, with­out a spe­cial small an­i­mal law to es­tab­lish th­ese pro­to­cols, putting an­i­mals down is not an op­tion at Chi­nese pet as­sis­tance cen­ters. There are no eth­i­cal or sci­en­tific plans to carry out the prac­tice, ” Jiang said.

Many an­i­mal as­sis­tance cen­ters have taken in too many strays, which has in­evitably re­sulted in a de­cline in the stan­dard of care. “There aren’t enough staff at the cen­ters to sup­port worm­ing treat­ment, feed­ing and the preven­tion of epi­demics. Most cru­cially, there are not many vet­eri­nar­i­ans to per­form ster­il­iza­tions ei­ther,” said Jiang.

Bei­jing Hu­man and An­i­mal En­vi­ron­men­tal Cen­ter was orig­i­nally de­signed to hold 200 an­i­mals, but it cur­rently has more than 300 in­hab­i­tants. Zhang Lyup­ing, the chief, said staff mem­bers take nu­mer­ous calls ev­ery day from peo­ple who want to leave their un­wanted pets at the cen­ter. The lack of a proper pet law has led to many peo­ple aban­don­ing their pets with­out shoul­der­ing any le­gal li­a­bil­ity.

As the as­sis­tance cen­ters be­come more fa­mil­iar with pet man­age­ment, stray dogs and cats are treated in a man­ner tai­lored to their own na­tures. “We have re­al­ized that cats should not be caged in groups be­cause they are ba­si­cally soli­tary crea­tures. From what we have seen, they are likely to suf­fer from in­fec­tious dis­eases if they are caged to­gether,” Jiang said.

Wang Zipeng, an an­i­mal res­cue vol­un­teer said the govern­ment has sim­pli­fied the pro­ce­dures by which non­govern­men­tal in­sti­tu­tions can reg­is­ter and set up op­er­a­tions to col­lect money from the pub­lic, which will help pro­vide new funds to sup­port the pro­tec­tion and res­cue of an­i­mals.

“I think at the cur­rent stage, if we want to ac­cel­er­ate the leg­is­la­tion process, too great an em­pha­sis on the phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal rights of an­i­mals won’t draw much at­ten­tion from the Chi­nese pub­lic. We have to make peo­ple re­al­ize that their well-be­ing is closely con­nected with a healthy, func­tion­ing hu­man so­ci­ety,” he said.

A lack of con­sen­sus

Wang be­lieves that leg­is­la­tion to pre­vent the tor­ture of an­i­mals is much more ur­gently needed than an an­i­mal wel­fare law. In in­ter­na­tional terms, Chi­nese law lags be­hind coun­tries such as the UK, which en­acted laws pre­vent­ing the abuse of an­i­mals in 1849.

An Xiang, an an­i­mal pro­tec­tion ac­tivist and pub­lic in­ter­est lawyer in Bei­jing, said, “The rea­son that this law has not yet been es­tab­lished is that there is no real national con­sen­sus on the mat­ter. Many peo­ple are am­bigu­ous about the is­sue.”

De­spite the dilemma, hope is not just com­ing from the grass roots level. As the an­i­mal wel­fare move­ment in­fil­trates ev­ery level of so­ci­ety and feel­ings grow stronger, with ev­ery act of an­i­mal abuse at­tract­ing crit­i­cism at the national level through both old and new me­dia, the govern­ment has started to take a num­ber of cau­tious steps.

The tem­plate for an an­i­mal pro­tec­tion and anti-abuse law was drafted in 2009 by Chang Ji­wen, di­rec­tor of the so­cial law re­search depart­ment at the Chi­nese Acad­emy of So­cial Sciences. Al­though it has yet to be adopted, the draft prompted many del­e­gates to dis­cuss the is­sue at the National Peo­ple’s Congress.

In Jan­uary 2011, the cen­tral govern­ment is­sued a ban on an­i­mal cir­cuses and cer­tain types of abuse, such as the use of vi­o­lence to make an­i­mals per­form tricks, at zoos. The Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture has twice is­sued strin­gent rules on the quar­an­tine pro­ce­dures for dogs and cats.

Ac­cord­ing to the Chi­nese Ve­teri­nary Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion, the coun­try will pub­lish its first gen­eral rule on an­i­mal wel­fare later this year. Al­though not manda­tory, most of the clauses will fo­cus on the preven­tion of un­nec­es­sary suf­fer­ing in­flicted on small an­i­mals.

In May 2012, China’s first reg­u­la­tion on dogs with a bear­ing on an­i­mal wel­fare at the county level was passed in Yangx­ian county, Shaanxi prov­ince.

“All th­ese acts show that at the cen­tral gov­ern­men­tal level, the process de­signed to for­mu­late an­i­mal pro­tec­tion rules is speed­ing up. A con­sen­sus on an­i­mal wel­fare has been es­tab­lished among govern­ment lead­ers and this will prompt a greater num­ber of de­mands for leg­is­la­tion re­lat­ing to small an­i­mals,” said Li Hua, pres­i­dent of An­i­mal Guardians, a non-gov­ern­men­tal an­i­mal rights group in Hong Kong. Li is con­vinced that a sub­stan­tial num­ber of govern­ment of­fi­cials are in fa­vor of in­tro­duc­ing tough leg­is­la­tion.

“We be­lieve rea­son­able and le­gal an­i­mal pro­tec­tion ac­tiv­i­ties will ac­cel­er­ate the leg­isla­tive progress. The rel­e­vant min­istries and com­mis­sions have al­ready taken steps. Al­though it may not look as though leg­is­la­tion is forth­com­ing, rel­e­vant re­search work has al­ready been car­ried out,” said Li. Con­tact the writer at zhanglei@chi­nadaily.com.cn

CHENG TINGT­ING / XIN­HUA

Vis­i­tors choose an­i­mals to adopt at a cat fes­ti­val held in Bei­jing’s Chaoyang Park in 2012.

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