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From removal to relief: animal epidemic prevention
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Like humans, animals in quake-affected areas have ended up homeless and helpless. People have been killing the animals due to fear of epidemics. One group of volunteers set off from Beijing on June 1 to intervene by offering vaccinations and operations for injured animals in a quake-hit town. Their goal is to treat the animals humanely and to help rebuild the relationship between humans and animals.

Dog induces disputes

Just two days after the Wenchuan quake, the Ministry of Agriculture issued a document about preventing animal-transmitted diseases, since disaster areas are known to be high-risk for rabies.

On May 18, local government of Qingchuan issued orders to kill wandering dogs in a drastic effort to reduce animal-transmitted diseases. This campaign was scheduled to last 13 days.

By May 26, about 100 dog attacks had occurred in disaster areas, reported the China Epidemic Control and Prevention Center. This statistic was alarming when paired with a short supply of the rabies vaccine.

He Yong, an assistant with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) China office wanted to send experts to disaster areas to care for dogs and livestock. It seemed to him that the establishment of a central animal settlement was necessary to ensure the successful prevention of epidemics.

In addition, animals badly needed medical treatment, clean water and sufficient feed.

But the organization, as well as other animal rights activists, were concerned: would it be acceptable to talk about animal protection when so many humans needed help?

They wondered whether killing dogs was the ultimate solution for preventing the spread of rabies and other diseases. Some thought it could lead to fear and panic among the locals.

Liu Lang, a veterinarian who is on the board of directors for the Beijing Animals Treatment Trade Association affirmed these concerns.

Killing dogs could especially panic children, he said.

He added that rather than killing the dogs, protecting them could actually relieve people’s pressure and make them feel calmer and safer.

Rabies the target of epidemic prevention

After the quake, Zundao's epidemic prevention station had only eight workers trying to treat many animals.

He Yong decided it needed more help.

On May 25, he arrived at Zundao Town, Mianzhu City, with 30,000 yuan and 23 boxes of disinfectant and masks.

The once beautiful town, which consisted of 10 villages, toppled after the May 12 earthquake, with a death toll of 400. 60 of these were kids.

Agriculture was Zundao's pillar industry. Pigs, cows and sheep provided their main income. Plus, local people needed dogs to protect their food and the valuables that they had salvaged.

More than 2,000 livestock were injured, and 500-odd dogs needed immunization. It was tough for only eight workers to help all the animals, especially with the rabies vaccination in short supply.

On May 26, a temporary earthquake relief group led by the Ministry of Health suggested the Zundao government try to inoculate dogs, rather than killing them, as a way to prevent epidemics.

He Yong offered IFAW's services in organizing epidemic prevention efforts, which the Zundao government accepted.

He started setting up a volunteer team. From more than 200 veterinarian applicants, three people from Beijing were chosen to go to the area, in addition to several volunteers and foreign experts. The team was joined by two staff members from Zundao Town's animal clinic.

The team began work on June 1.

There were about 4,100 dogs in the town, said Zhou Lebing, head of the town's animal clinic. In March, a town-wide rabies vaccination was performed for free for all dogs, but more than 500 dogs missed the shot.

The team started searching for dogs that were not inoculated or that were injured in the disaster by going door-to-door, to ensure that they did not miss a single one.

Dog search and rescue

Yips could be heard from time to time in the rubble. Some dogs were still tied to collapsed doorframes or beams. Others were roaming in villages, staring at every person walking by, and would run quickly at the slightest sign of trouble, even a breeze.

Sometimes it was difficult to convince owners to let them inoculate the dogs.

One resident, Cui Shimin from Shuangtu village of Zundao, was afraid that his dog, Beibei, would be killed by the dog crackdown teams. So he did not seek treatment for it, even though it acted abnormally after the earthquake, flying into rages easily and often scared by a sudden sound.

Cui was frightened the dog would bite but also wanted it to stay alive.

However, the team convinced him that they would not kill Beibei, but simply needed to inoculate him for everyone's safety.

Doubts like this evaporated as the team immunized village dogs without any adverse effects. All of the treatment was free. The team also supplied dog food to owners, which served two purposes. Aside from helping the owners maintain their pets, it would prevent attacks by hungry dogs.

The team inoculated 12 dogs every hour, working from 8:00 to 20:00 every day.

Completing inoculation in the town took one week. The number of injections reached 636.

Euthanasia sometimes necessary

A big challenge the team faced was dealing with wandering dogs, whose owners had passed away, abandoned them or simply lost them in the aftermath of the quake.

The team temporarily adopted the dogs until their owners claimed them. During this period, they observed the dogs, looking for serious illnesses and aggressiveness.

The team would not release dogs back to families if they were too sick or acting aggressively towards humans.

The best option for dogs that were too skittish and aggressive could be euthanasia, He Yong said. He added that it showed respect for their lives.

The team volunteers distributed booklets to residents to improve their knowledge about epidemics caused by animals.

The working team trained the veterinarians in Zundao Town on how to use dog capture tools and how to administer euthanasia. They reminded people in the town of every possible epidemic prevention detail, like restricting pets from reliving themselves in public areas, checking them for worms and above all, remaining responsible for their animals and refusing to abandon them.

A job well done

The work of He Yong and his team members in Zundao has been recognized and praised.

On June 6, the animal clinic of Zundao Town expressed appreciation for their efforts towards animal inoculation after quake in a letter.

He Yong said the team's goals were as follows: "To help people by rescuing animals, and realize the harmonious coexistence of human beings and animals."

He stated the progress they made was only possible because of Zundao's work prior to the quake.

Thus, through cooperation between the government and professional veterinarians, Zundao was able to save dogs instead of killing them.

(China.org.cn by Fan Junmei & Hou Xiaoying, June 15, 2008)

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