CHINA / Regional

Health official recommends vaccinating dogs
Updated: 2006-08-11 09:30

BEIJING - A controversial mass slaughter of dogs in China may not be necessary with recent incidents of rabies.

"Rabies is not on the rise overall," vice health minister Jiang Zuojun said when asked about recent orders in two provinces to kill over half a million dogs.

"In such a big country, it's normal for a few cases to occur," a health official said Thursday.

Jiang said the rabies cases were mostly in the countryside, an area where pet dogs were not widely vaccinated against the disease.

He recommended vaccinating dogs rather than mass killings when asked about how to deal with the recent rabies cases.

News last week of plans by authorities in the eastern province of Shandong to kill up to half a million dogs, following the death of 16 people from rabies in the past eight months, made headlines worldwide.

The deaths occurred in 16 villages in Jining prefecture, where 500,000 dogs were kept as pets or guard dogs, state press reported last week.

Local epidemic prevention authorities had ordered the killing of all dogs within a five-kilometer (3.1-mile) radius of each village, state press said.

A county in southwest China's Yunnan province a week earlier ordered 50,546 dogs killed after rabies led to the deaths of three people.

Owners have been ordered to kill their pets or face having teams of local police club the dogs to death in front of them.

Some owners have used methods including hanging their dogs, electrocuting them and clubbing them to death, while others used drugs, according to state press reports.

The canine slaughter ignited massive opposition from animal rights activists and others on Internet chatrooms and Chinese media.

"If local officials had raised awareness and done a good job of vaccinating dogs... they could have completely prevented this large scale slaughter of dogs, even when discovering cases of rabies," said Beijing-based activist Liu Di, who runs a shelter for abandoned animals.

People writing online said Chinese villagers were too poor to vaccinate their dogs and that was the core reason for the persistent rabies problem in China despite the existence of good vaccines.

Liu was quoted by state media as saying she will appeal to the national legislature to stop such dog culls and to require the use of more humane and painless methods if dogs have to be put to death.