An ‘ugly’ habit

‘It’s ugly for hu­mans to eat dog meat.’ More peo­ple in China are be­gin­ning to agree with this woman’s sen­ti­ment as the num­ber of pet own­ers rises.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Insight - By GOH SUI NOI Goh Sui Noi is The Straits Times’ China bu­reau chief in Bei­jing.

AS a child, Wang Zheng, now 45, had longed for a pet.

But her par­ents did not al­low her to have any as they thought of pets as trou­ble­some and dirty. She was left with play­ing with the neigh­bours’ cats in­stead.

So when she saw that her daugh­ter, an only child, also had a lik­ing for an­i­mals, Wang de­cided to get a pet dog for the fam­ily re­cently. It would keep Le­tong, now 13, com­pany and help re­lieve her school­work pres­sure, Wang thought.

“Pang Hei keeps Le­tong com­pany when she does her home­work,” she says of the schnau­zer-poo­dle mix that she adopted from a neigh­bour’s lit­ter for a to­ken sum of 600 yuan (RM380).

Wang is among a grow­ing num­ber of mid­dle-class Chi­nese who have taken to keep­ing dogs as pets. Grow­ing af­flu­ence and the now de­funct one-child pol­icy have been driv­ers of this trend.

The Com­mu­nist Party had frowned on the prac­tice as elit­ist and Bei­jing banned dogs as pets in 1983, after they started to ap­pear in house­holds after the end of the Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion in 1976.

When Bei­jing lifted the ban on dog own­er­ship in 2002, 140,000 dogs were reg­is­tered. By 2012, that num­ber had jumped to 1.2 mil­lion and then to two mil­lion by last year.

But with only 50% to 60% of dogs within city lim­its reg­is­tered and vir­tu­ally all of those in the sub­urbs un­reg­is­tered, the real num­ber of dogs could be be­tween four and six mil­lion (Bei­jing has 21.5 mil­lion res­i­dents), says Mary Peng, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of an an­i­mal hospi­tal; she was speak­ing at a re­cent fo­rum on an­i­mal wel­fare in Bei­jing.

Na­tion­wide, there are an es­ti­mated 62 mil­lion reg­is­tered dogs.

Yet, at the same time that more Chi­nese are keep­ing dogs as pets, more are also eat­ing dog meat, ac­cord­ing to Prof Guo Peng of Shan­dong Univer­sity, who re­searches an­i­mal ethics and who spoke at the same fo­rum.

This is be­cause dog meat is rel­a­tively cheaper than other meats, she says.

The rea­son is not that it is cheap to rear a dog, as any ca­nine owner would at­test. Rather, it is be­cause most dogs be­ing sold in Chi­nese mar­kets for their meat have been stolen from their own­ers.

Aside from price, Chi­nese have no qualms eat­ing dog meat be­cause, tra­di­tion­ally, keep­ing dogs as pets was some­thing that was con­fined to the wealthy classes. Com­mon folk, if they kept dogs at all, had them as guard dogs to pro­tect their homes. There is not the same kind of com­mon re­gard for dogs as friends as there is in the West and, in­creas­ingly, in other Asian coun­tries, in­clud­ing Malaysia.

“Old dogs might be slaugh­tered in some ar­eas in China (for food), es­pe­cially in very harsh times when food is in short sup­ply,” notes Prof Guo.

A di­rec­tor of a doc­u­men­tary on dog own­er­ship in China told the At­lantic mag­a­zine that while many Chi­nese dog own­ers think there is a con­tra­dic­tion be­tween eat­ing dog meat and own­ing a dog, some do not.

“An­other one of my sub­jects has a small dog he adores, but, at the same time, he owns a Korean-Chi­nese restau­rant where he serves dog meat,” says the di­rec­tor who wanted to re­main anony­mous.

About 10 mil­lion dogs are slaugh­tered an­nu­ally for their meat na­tion­wide; ar­eas where dog meat is com­monly eaten are north-east­ern China, Guang­dong prov­ince, and the Guangxi re­gion.

But what has stirred con­tro­versy both in China and abroad is the an­nual Yulin Ly­chee and Dog Meat Fes­ti­val in Guangxi. The fes­ti­val was started in­for­mally in the late 1990s by restau­rant own­ers. It grew pop­u­lar and be­came an im­por­tant tourist at­trac­tion for the city.

Last year, how­ever, a pe­ti­tion against the fes­ti­val drew millions of sig­na­tures na­tion­wide, show­ing a grow­ing op­po­si­tion to the eat­ing of dog meat in China.

How­ever, this year’s fes­ti­val, which ran from June 21 to 30, went ahead with­out any of­fi­cial crack­down.

An­i­mal wel­fare ac­tivists do not ex­pect ev­ery­one in China to stop eat­ing dog meat overnight but, in­stead, hope that there will be a change of at­ti­tude as more Chi­nese take to keep­ing dogs as pets.

“As this gen­er­a­tion starts to grow up with pets in the house­hold and ex­pe­ri­ence the hu­man-an­i­mal bond ... we hope to see the younger gen­er­a­tion start to choose not to con­tinue with those prac­tices,” says Peng.

In the mean­time, what could be done is to frame the ar­gu­ment against eat­ing dog meat as a pub­lic health is­sue, she adds, given that there are no rules reg­u­lat­ing where the meat comes from or how it is pre­pared – “It’s just not a safe meat to eat,” she says.

Prof Guo thinks there should sim­ply be a ban on dog-meat eat­ing out­side of the eth­nic Korean com­mu­nity where the prac­tice has a long tra­di­tion.

And that would be what China’s grow­ing le­gion of dog lovers will wel­come.

“I can’t ac­cept it,” says Wang. “It’s ugly for hu­mans to eat dog meat.” – The Straits Times/Asia News Net­work


This man in Yulin, China, has pet dogs that are obviously well-looked after and loved, but at the same time, he has no quar­rel with the restau­rant be­hind him which serves dog meat. While at­ti­tudes are chang­ing, it will take time to get ev­ery­one on board, say ac­tivists.

— AP

A file photo of dogs await­ing trans­port to a slaugh­ter­house, taken by Hu­mane So­ci­ety In­ter­na­tional dur­ing a visit to the Yulin mar­ket.

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