I was walking across campus and noticed a small dog following two young women ahead of me. They stopped to check their phones, and I approached them. I smiled and said, “your dog is cute.”
One of the students replied, “he’s not mine.”
Then it hit me: he was no one’s dog. Maybe he was someone’s dog at another time, but no one was missing him now.
This is a really difficult thing to write about, but China has a serious dog problem. There are several strays on campus. Earlier this year, a stray had two puppies and there was a group of us at the university who took food and water to the mama dog until the puppies were old enough to give away. (The puppies are happily re-homed now, but this is not the typical ending.)
Lots of strays here are puppies no one wanted. Others are pets turned out because they got too big or became too much responsibility. Some are turned out because students left for the summer and can’t take the pet home.
This happens with cats too, but there are more stray dogs nowadays because of a recent law, which only came into effect after a dog allegedly attacked a young girl. (I can’t find any record in English, but this is widely publicized in Chinese.) The law? That all dogs must be registered, microchipped, spayed/neutered, vaccinated, and on a leash.
Doesn’t sound too difficult, right? It’s reasonable to my American mind. (That would be because in the U.S., these are common requirements for dog ownership and part of responsible pet care.) Other elements of the law include limits on the size of the dog, where you can take dogs, and what happens if your dog attacks someone. Some of these are less reasonable, but part of the law anyway.
In my city, this law has prompted people to abandon their pets. There are dogs everywhere.
Walking home from the bus stop yesterday, I saw a dog without a collar near the entrance to our apartment compound. She wandered aimlessly across a busy road and into the bike lane. I stopped to see where she would go. A bicycle whizzed past and she started to chase the bike. I considered for a moment that the dog’s owner was on the bike, but at the end of the bike lane the dog stopped running. At this point, I took off towards the dog to try to follow her. She wasn’t lost—she was turned loose. I saw her cross the street, but because the streets here are all as wide as boulevards, I lost her after that. I looked around for a block in every direction and couldn’t see her. She was gone. On my return walk to the apartment, I just prayed she wouldn’t get hit by a car…
But, to be fair, perhaps being caught by a dogcatcher is worse than being hit by a car. Videos have surfaced on social media of the police taking dogs. (Link is in Chinese, but shows pictures of a dog confiscation.) If the dog is loose, they grab it. People have reported seeing garbage bags of dead dogs in the back of trucks. If the dogs live, they go to what some of my Chinese friends have loosely translated to mean “concentration camp.” Dogs in the concentration camps are not adoptable. They’ll die there.
It’s not just strays who can suffer this fate though. With the recent crackdown, it’s been rumored that the police are receiving up to 50 RMB (about $7) for every dog they collect (in any condition).
People have reported seeing police standing outside veterinarian offices and pet shops asking for registration papers. They take the dog. There is no discussion. No papers? Worse: “plainclothes [police] squatting near the pet shop, ambush, grab dogs, undocumented dogs on the spot suffocated.” (Translated from above link via Google Chrome.)
This isn’t just upsetting. It’s inhumane.
The problem is multifaceted. There are many causes and many things that need to take place to work towards a solution. Ultimately I believe that the new law will be helpful if it’s enforced and enforced consistently—allowing only registered, vaccinated, spayed/neutered pets is wise for population control, personal responsibility, and health and safety.
All of this chaos regarding dog registration follows other recent news about the failed attempt to stop (link contains photos that may be upsetting) the Yulin Dog Meat Festival (link contains photos that may be upsetting), which will take place on the summer solstice. It’s widely accepted that pets are sometimes kidnapped to be served or sold as meat for this festival, which is in Guanxi province (south central China, bordering Vietnam), so many are wondering if the dog round up here is associated with the upcoming festival.
We may never know.
It’s possible the dogs will go to shelters, but it’s highly unlikely. There are animal shelters in the area, but they’re poorly funded and completely overrun with unwanted animals. The one closest to campus only accepts vaccinated and spayed/neutered pets… meaning they don’t accept strays at all. It’s unfortunate, but I can understand that they find that these limitations will ensure the pets they shelter are adoptable. But it’s still horrible and incredibly unhelpful.
In response to so many animal welfare issues in the community, a colleague of mine worked with some students to start an official club on our campus. We were an informal group of concerned citizens first, but now we have the recognition of the university and the ability to raise funds as a student organization. I’m a club advisor in charge of the education and training committee.
Our goals are to spay/neuter as many stray cats and dogs as possible on our campus, take care of the local strays so they can live safely in our community, and educate pet owners about responsible pet ownership, including the need for vaccinations, the value in sterilization/desexing pets, and how to choose pets for your lifestyle IF you’re ready for a pet.
We’re just getting off the ground, so we haven’t done much outside of taking care of the two puppies born to a stray mama dog and watch over the strays on our campus amid this recent roundup, but we have goals and dreams.
If you’d like to donate to our cause, or know someone who would, please get in touch with me. We don’t have a bank account yet, so the club advisors are handling funds in the meantime.
Additionally, if you know of a Western animal welfare organization that might like to pair with us (for educational materials, training, or more), please send them this blog post and put them in touch with me. We can use all the help we can get.
This is a problem that isn’t going to go away any time soon. It’s not fair to say we’re making progress because this is a huge country… with laws that change all the time… so we have to work hard in our local area in hopes of improving life for at least a few animals. It’s heartbreaking on a regular basis, but we are trying our best.