Bai Lihe is not getting much sleep these days, even though her village no longer reverberates to the nocturnal sounds of 300 local dogs that were killed in a bid to combat rabies.
Instead, Bai lies awake thinking about Doudou, the dog who shared her life for the past eight years.
Doudou was out in the neighborhood a week ago and never came home, said Bai, a 55-year-old housewife from Xiayishui village, Yangxian county, Hanzhong, in northwest Shaanxi province.
She learned later from neighbors that Doudou was clubbed to death by local officials who believed he was a stray.
Xiayishui village is taking part in a campaign in Hanzhong that has seen more than 20,000 dogs -- mostly strays -- killed to curb the spread of rabies, a disease that has claimed eight human lives in the past two and a half months.
"Doudou was small and never bit," Bai told China Daily Tuesday. "I just vaccinated him against rabies and they still clubbed him to death."
A few doors away, Bai Xinpeng, 26, was doing all he could to make sure the same fate did not befall his three dogs.
"I can only keep them all in my bedroom and lock my home all the time," he said. "They've been killing dogs for quite a while and I've no idea when this will be finished but I'll protect them as long as possible. Now it's hard to spot a dog in our village where there used to be nearly 400 dogs."
Dang Zhengqing, Party Secretary of Yangxian county, insisted the killing was necessary.
"The culling, targeting only wild and stray dogs, was over Tuesday and people are safer now from the epidemic."
However, some locals complained that officials went door-to-door killing dogs.
"I understand the public anger but we don't kill owned dogs on leash," he insisted. "The culling is extreme but necessary to combat the deadly epidemic. All lives are equally important but we decided to sacrifice dogs for human health."
Local authorities are entitled under the law to take such action to contain epidemics.
Rabies had hit the area hard, said Dang.
However, some medical experts disagreed with the action.
Tan Xiaodong, a public health professor at Wuhan University, said there was no justification for the killings.
"In addition to dogs, animals including cats and bats can also cause rabies. It's impossible to kill them all."
"To eradicate the lethal disease, what is needed is long-term proper management and oversight over dog keeping."
Dang said there were other measures in place to curtail rabies including free rabies vaccinations and registration for all 24,000 dogs left in the county.
"Free chains will be distributed to dog owners to keep their pets on leash," he added.
The efforts are paying off, he said. Since May 7, when the war on rabies started, the number of dog-biting cases decreased dramatically.
A great many dogs in rural areas are neither registered, nor vaccinated.
"We are trying to raise public awareness about safe dog-keeping," Dang said.
At the city level, the government in Hanzhong is urging people to have their pets vaccinated and more than 240,000 had done so by the end of May, said Qin Mingxian, director of the Hanzhong agriculture bureau.
"The vaccination work is still going on and the goal is to vaccinate all of the 370,000 dogs in the city," he said.
Since May 23, the local government carried out a citywide anti-rabies drive focusing on prevention, immunization and dog-killing.
(China Daily June 3, 2009)