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Hot Debate over Mass Slaughter of Dogs
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After two local governments ordered that dogs be killed following a rabies outbreak in China a heated debate is underway about whether such an approach is the only way to curb the spread of the disease. Society is arguing about the merits of a mass slaughter of dogs. 

The local government of Mouding County, in southwest China's Yunnan Province, killed 54,429 dogs between July 25 and 30 after discovering 357 local people had been bitten this year and that three had died of rabies.

The local government of Jining City, in east China's Shandong Province, did the same after the city's nine counties and districts and 14 townships reported a number of outbreaks of rabies which claimed several lives.

Dog lovers consider the local governments' approach cruel. "If these dogs weren't vaccinated that's the fault of people and dogs should not be made to pay for human negligence," said Tang Bing, a tourism official and dog lover.

"The mass slaughter of dogs is cold-blooded and governments should detect dogs with rabies and put them down in a humane manner," said Stone Chen, a 22-year-old journalist who has kept dogs for years.

On April 3, 14 animal protection associations from all over the country wrote a letter in protest against the mass slaughter policy of the two governments. They said rabies had broken out in other parts of the country in the past but local governments had curbed the spread of the disease by strengthening vaccination work in time and killing vagrant dogs.

However, other citizens believe that the mass slaughter of dogs in the event of a rabies outbreak is necessary. A netizen left a message on Xinhuanet.com saying that thousands of unvaccinated dogs in a county would pose a huge public threat. Another netizen agreed that people's lives should be the government's priority when facing epidemic situations. Contagious disease experts claim the killing of dogs is the most effective way to combat a rabies outbreak.

Ding Zhengrong, a local epidemic prevention official in Yunnan Province said: "Killing dogs is the most effective way to control the epidemic when rabies breaks out." Even if they look healthy dogs may still be carrying the virus. When rabies occurs it's difficult to tell the sick dogs from the healthy so the mass killing was necessary.

But Ding also said that if measures could be taken to prevent an outbreak of rabies in the first place there would be no need for such a course of action. "Compulsory vaccination of all dogs is the solution," he said. Some urban families failed to register and vaccinate their dogs because of the expense, noted Ding. 

In Jining city, in Shandong Province, it costs 4,500 yuan (US$564) to register and vaccinate a dog. The high cost has scared away many dog owners. In the vast rural areas there's no clear-cut dog registration and vaccination system at all. Ding suggested that government reduce dog registration and vaccination fees in cities and in rural areas governments should organize special groups to patrol and vaccinate dogs for free.

Rabies, mainly spread by dog bites, attacks the nervous system and usually kills humans within a week of them developing the symptoms. It's one of the most deadly contagious diseases in China. The Ministry of Health reported 2,375 deaths from rabies last year. 

"To my knowledge rabies in China is not on the rise," Jiang Zuojun, vice health minister, said at a press conference Thursday. "In such a big country it's normal for some cases to occur."

He said the countryside was an area with weak rabies prevention where dogs were not widely vaccinated against the disease and medical treatment for people bitten by dogs was not adequate. Jiang said that more dogs would be vaccinated against rabies in the future.

"One must be given a vaccination immediately after being bitten by a dog," Mao Qun'an, the Health Ministry's spokesman said.

(Xinhua News Agency August 11, 2006)


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