OVER 200 protesters lined a chilly Beijing street last month to denounce a Government crackdown on pet dogs that has the city's usually passive citizens crying murder.
‘Arbitrary slaughter is disgraceful,’ read one sign held up by the demonstrators who gathered in front of the city zoo. Protesters yelled in unison: ‘Legislate to protect our pets!’
The protesters, many holding up toy fluffy dogs, were decrying Government moves to restrict the number of dogs by enforcing an arbitrary 35-centimetre height limit on dogs and confiscating and culling oversized ones, said one of the organisers, who asked to be known only by her surname, Wu.
For her and others the struggle against the Government’s canine purge has become a struggle in miniature against arbitrary power and Chinese people's powerlessness before faceless officialdom.
‘Raising a dog is a right, not a privilege,’ said Wu, who furtively keeps five dogs and runs a pet store. ‘But now our rights are under attack and we can only take out our dogs in the dead of night.’
She said 18 protesters were detained and released only after organisers agreed to disperse the rally.
Many protestors and campaigners around the world cite the cull as being a means to an end to ‘clean up’ the capital Beijing before the 2008 Olympics. A similar ‘stray cull’was deployed by the Greek authorities in Athens before the 2004 Olympics.
Protests are rare in the national capital, and Wu said the organisers did not obtain official approval. Beijing authorities have been vigilant against any assemblies since 1989 when pro-democracy demonstrations ended in a bloody army crackdown with a massacre in the city’s Tianammen Square.
A few years ago, officials relaxed rules on dog ownership but demanded that each household keep at most one dog and pay 500 yuan (£33) a year for the privilege, after an initial fee of 1,000 yuan.
Dog numbers in Beijing have nonetheless been soaring, along with cases of bites and rabies.
The capital now has about 550,000 licensed dogs, a rise of one fifth on last year, and many others remained uncounted, according to official estimates.
In the first nine months of 2006, over 100,000 people in Beijing were bitten and nine were diagnosed with rabies, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
But one Saturday middle-aged women joined twenty-somethings with pierced lips and dyed hair for the protest.
Dozens of police, some in anti-riot gear, stood guard, but apart from the 18 arrests, the protest was largely peaceful and without incident.
One young protester’s sign summed up the mood of the dog owners fighting for their pets’ lives: ‘This dog is your friend. He fights for freedom.’
The state-sponsored cull of dogs has sparked outrage around the world, with several animal charities lodging protests with the Chinese Government. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has donated money and supplies to China to implement an anti-rabies vaccination programme. But despite this, the Chinese Government continue to allow the slaughter of dogs to go ahead – and many of the animals being killed are family pets that have been vaccinated against the disease and formally registered.
Dog lovers are being urged to write polite but firm letters and e-mails of protest to key Chinese officials, and also to the International Olympic Committee.
In the meantime, the cull continues unabated.
The following website gives a great deal of information relating to the Chinese dog cull. But be warned – it contains many graphic images of dead dogs and dogs being killed:
Letters and e-mails of protest may be sent to:
Minister Gao Qiang, Ministry of Health - No.1 Xi Zhi Men Wai Nan Lu Rd, Xi Cheng District, Beijing, 100044, China.
His Excellency, Hu Jintao President of the People's Republic of China 9 Xihuang-Chenggen Beijie Beijing Peoples Republic of China. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Chinese Embassy in London, Ambassador Zha Peixin - 49-51 Portland Place, London, W1B 1JL E-mail: email@example.com
Jacques Rogge President, International Olympic Committee Chateau De Vidy Case Postale 356 1007 Lausanne, Switzerland Fax: +41-21-621-6216
Head Office for Beijing Olympics