Images of the Chinese Shar Pei can be found on pottery that dates back to the Han Dynasty (c. 200 BC). But in the 20th century, dog ownership was almost entirely eliminated by the Chinese Communist Party, which believed that keeping pets was a trait of the bourgeoisie. Now that China is enjoying immense prosperity and city dwellers no longer have to worry about having enough food for their families (let alone a pet!) dog ownership has once again become very popular. In major cities including Beijing and Shanghai, a growing Chinese middle class has rapidly taken to adopting and keeping dogs.
But with ownership comes responsibility, as they say. The huge transition society is going through has given rise to many problematic issues. In recent months, several Chinese provinces have seen a sharp increase in cases of rabies.
Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, reported on November 8 that “China’s capital [Beijing] is to implement a ‘one dog’ policy for each household in its latest bid to fight rabies which claimed 318 lives nationwide in September.” The report further stated, “Only one pet dog is allowed per household in the zones, and dangerous and large dogs will be banned.” The regulations specify that large dogs are considered to be more than thirteen inches tall.
More disturbing to both Chinese pet parents and to animal rights activists around the world are the extermination purges that the government carried out in several provinces apparently afflicted with high rates of rabies cases. It is estimated that more than 50,000 dogs have been killed. In response, the Humane Society of United States has offered $100,000 and their assistance to help China build an anti-rabies program. In a letter to Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong, HSUS president and CEO Wayne Pacelle wrote, ”There are far better ways of addressing rabies control to promote the safety of your citizens, the good reputation of China, and the welfare of the dogs.”
Protests over the killings have taken place in cities all over China, most recently in Beijing.
The Chinese health care system has rapidly deteriorated in recent years, and veterinary care, which used to be free or affordable for farmers and others that kept animals, is now often out of reach for rural Chinese people. Vaccinations, which would easily prevent rabies and other diseases, are neglected because of the expense.
Still, Chinese people seem optimistic about their newfound relationships with man’s best friend. The dog parents in Xiaman who eagerly posed for AF’s photographer expressed little fear and no regrets about keeping their puppies.