The recent crackdown on canines in Hangzhou, China, by public officials made it to the news and raised global criticism and questions regarding the harsh actions. Triggered by an incident where a mother of two children was beaten up in the middle of the road by a dog owner for kicking “his son”, public officials soon started indiscriminately seizing, beating and drowning canines. The issue sheds light on a much bigger problem that persists – lack of animal welfare regulations.
China has limited protection of animal rights by international standards and does not have nationwide laws that prevent ill-treatment of animals in the country. Although there are laws that protect animals that are being used in research or are kept in the zoo (including animals raised as pets), strays that are homeless do not have any protection under the law. This is particularly worrying as the Chinese government has not acknowledged the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare. Under the Law for the Protection of Wildlife, animal protection is mentioned under circumstances where they are a resource for humans.
Survival of Stray Dogs
Stray dogs face a serious challenge of survival in many countries around the world. They are killed every year in large numbers. Almost three million cats and dogs are killed in the United States every year. There is a similar occurrence of killings in countries such as Pakistan, Russia and Australia. Stray dogs are known to pose the threat of Rabies to humans and for causing unhygienic conditions on streets where they live.
Despite these problems, urban canines are the mirrors that reflect the very process through which humans evolved into an urban populace. Since ages (approximately 15,000 to 32,100 years ago), canines, initially wolves, were the first to be domesticated by man. They served the purpose of hunting. By the time our needs changed, they had already lost their natural habitats and remained but a remnant of our urban greed and struggle for survival. Today, their existence is directly connected to the failures of urban municipalities to manage waste effectively. On the one end as humans consume more, municipalities are growing increasingly incapable of handling waste segregation, disposal and recycling. Stray dogs happen to be natural scavengers of organic waste in urban settings. They are also effective in keeping away other scavengers like rats, cats and crows.
Dogs are loved and hated, and according to experts, they are very much a part of the urban human habitat. Policymakers must find a way to keep them safe and if needed, away from humans but exterminating them is neither a humane nor a logical long-term solution.
Legal Best Practices and Global Awareness
South Asia has had a very different lens on this issue. In India, stray dogs are loved, hated and yet, protected. In 1960, India passed the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, which punishes anyone who causes unnecessary pain or suffering to an animal (including stray dogs) with fines and up to 5 years in prison. In 2001, the Animal Birth Control Rules were instituted under Section 38 of this act. A humane, legal and scientific procedure was adopted to keep the population of stray dogs in check.
By means of the Animal Birth Control Program, stray dogs are sterilized, administered with anti-rabies vaccine and released into the same environment from where they were taken. It has been identified that, this approach has allowed municipal officials to keep stray dog populations in check, while also controlling the spread of rabies. The law strictly prohibits municipal officials to kill or dislocate a stray dog, irrespective of any complaints received by them from residents. The officials in this case, can only sterilize them and leave them back into their own habitat. Although not perfectly implemented due to administrative gaps, as researchers in the field reflect, India has not taken the tragic route of eliminating stray dogs.
World Animal Protection, a UK-based animal rights organisation, has created an Animal Protection Index where 50 countries around the world are ranked on how well their legislation protects animals. India ranks particularly well in government accountability for animal welfare and consultation with stakeholders, compared to China which has weak response in these categories of the index. The difference cannot entirely be attributed to difference in the governance structures, since accountability and responsiveness on the part of the government can be well-executed in both a democracy and a socialist republic.
Policymakers have vast areas of concern in their governance agenda, but that does not mean that they can neglect a natural resource (fauna) that is an integral part of the urban ecosystem in which humans thrive. Ensuring the safety of biodiversity is ranked 15th among the list of 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), and policymakers have a role to play.
The Role of Communities
In addition to the government, civic organizations and communities play important roles in ensuring the safety and dignity of animals, particularly those that are homeless. In Singapore, student groups like NUS PEACE (People Ending Animal Cruelty and Exploitation), Yale-NUS Association for the Protection of Animals and ACRES provide good examples of how communities can constructively spread awareness of animal welfare and take action in creative ways at the city-level.
However, in China, key stakeholders seem to be divided on this front. In mainland China, one-fifth of the population still eats dog meat with the belief that it acts as a health tonic. The Yulin Dog Meat Festival held in June every year is one such practice. The result of this is the rising demand for dog meat which contributes to nearly half of dog slaughter across Asia and the widespread trade of dog meat. Currently, there is international recognition that regulations are the need of the hour to stop such cruel practices.
Surprisingly, on the other side, there is a booming pet industry in China with people treating dogs and other pets as family members. There has been an increase in dog lovers in the country who are trying to promote awareness against massive dog slaughter and trade of dog meat in China. A Hong Kong based non-profit, World Dog Alliance (WDA), has made commendable efforts to fight for a world-wide ban on consumption of dog meat and their efforts have been noticed world-wide.
In the urban landscape of China, there is much petition from the public that can constructively guide policymakers. However, the success of community initiatives in protecting animals comes predominantly from the responsiveness of the government towards engaging its people’s voice in the policy making process. In China’s case, as observed in the recent crackdown and rules imposed in certain cities, stakeholders have been largely ignored and policies have been implemented overnight.
China is an emerging power globally and has also shown initiative in working towards the 17 SDGs declared by United Nations. Protecting animals contributes to maintaining the fragile ecological balance of any geography where humans inhabit. It would be a much more positive and acceptable outcome if policymakers could engage key stakeholders in this issue to arrive at a logical and sustainable solution. In this case, instituting a broad nation-wide policy on animal protection and welfare would be a vital first step.
 Article 9 in the Interim Rules on Administration of Domestication, Breeding and Utilization Technology of Fur-producing Wild Animals (2005) and Article 29 of Regulations for the Administration of Laboratorial Animals (Command No. 2, State Scientific and Technological Commission, 1988)
 World Animal Protection, 2018.
 Sharing the urban space – Scientific study helps unfold the often-misunderstood human-stray dog conflict, Research Matters, June 7, 2018.
 Animal lovers and industry insiders explain why China’s pet industry is booming, Global Times China, March 27, 2018.
 In the Year of the Dog, Chinese animal lovers push to end the dog meat trade, ABC News, June 27, 2018.
 This Dog Lovers’ Day, let’s fight to end barbaric practice of killing canines for food, South China Morning Post, September 24, 2018.
 Chinese public urges government to crack down on dog meat industry, Channel News Asia, April 4, 2016.
 Why China’s dogs need better protection , China Dialogue, February 16, 2018.
 Dog Crackdown Sweeps China as Cities Enforce Strict Pet Regulations, That’s Mags, November 16, 2018.
 Executive Summary of China’s Actions on the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, United Nations, 2016.