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