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Chinese oppression and Tibetan dogs

Photo by Juliette Cunliffe
Lhasa Apso circumnambulating Lhasa's Potola Palace with its owner.

My ears always prick up at the word ‘Tibet’, and I have to admit to not realising that the Chinese had introduced a new dog law in Tibet (which they erroneously consider their own country) until reading the article in Our Dogs. This new law can only add to the tragedy of dogs in that land, for the suffering of dogs in Tibet is nothing new.

It is not only Lhasa Apsos that are under threat in their homeland, but all dogs, especially those living in the cities. In fact the current Tibetan population in Tibet I understand to be 30% but as with all things, Chinese propaganda can alter figures at will. In recent decades, dogs in Tibet have been at the mercy of the Chinese and my close association with many Tibetans has brought to my ears numerous horrific stories which perhaps I should now share with you all, for posterity’s sake. In many areas the Chinese have limited dog ownership to two, but given the vastness of that desolate land often more dogs are needed to work on the land and to guard livestock, children and womenfolk. Spot checks are frequently made on properties and if more than two dogs are discovered not only are the others killed but the owners are punished severely and can be thrown into prison.

Through my monk friend, Bhagdro, about whom I shall tell you more in a moment, I met an older monk who had escaped from Tibet about ten years before our meeting. He described to me in graphic detail how the Chinese killed dogs, and if you are too squeamish I suggest you stop reading now. Whilst the dogs were still alive, two men held their front legs apart whilst boiling water was poured down their throats. This had the effect of making the coat fall out more easily, and because of the stress the meat was said to be more tender. This is the very first time I have mentioned this in print, but if no-one tells the story, who is to know?

Bhagdro was imprisoned in Tibet and because of the dreadful torture he suffered, he eventually ended up in the prison hospital which had a the luxury of a window. From this prison window, near Lhasa, Bhagdro saw two lorryloads of dead dogs loaded up in the streets, a picture which has forever remained in his mind.

The Chinese have tried hard to break the spirit of the Tibetans and to undermine their beliefs. As the previous news article pointed out, it is true that Tibetans believe Lhasa Apsos to be reincarnations. In fact the Lhasa Apso is generally accepted to be the reincarnation of a monk who has erred in a previous life, but Buddhists believe that every sentient being is a reincarnation and that of course includes all dogs, not just Apsos. For a Tibetan to take any life is a great sin, so imagine how they feel if dogs are killed. The Chinese have long used the excuse that dogs are a threat to public health, but this is a convenient excuse and in no way exonerates them from blame. Rabies is present in the country, just as it is in numerous others, but I have never yet encountered any problems with rabid dogs.

I have not been into Tibet itself since the year 2000, when I travelled overland from Kathmandu in Nepal. In rural areas I saw many Tibetan Mastiffs and other dogs, but once in the country’s capital, Lhasa, the dogs I saw over a five-day period could be counted on two hands. People were highly reluctant to have their dogs photographed for fear of what the Chinese might do and when asked why there were so few dogs in the city, the only answer I received was that it was now too difficult to keep dogs under Chinese rule.

Interestingly there were many dogs in some of the monasteries, including Tashilhumpo, where it is a known fact that Chinese infiltrators are practising as monks. I hope to goodness that the monasteries’ canine populations will not now also be decimated. One day governments throughout the world may see sense, and give Tibet, its people and its dogs the support they so desperately need.

Photo by Tenzin Losel
The monk Bhagdro with Juliette Cunliffe holding the Tibetan flag,
which has been banned by the Chinese.