In October 2023, a shocking video emerged, revealing a Rottweiler’s ruthless attack on a toddler in China. The security footage showing the Rottweiler attacking the 2-year-old even went viral. In it, the footage shows the girl walking with her mother in a residential compound in Chongzhou.
Soon after, the dog chases her and bites her despite her mother making a desperate attempt to pull her back. After a while, a man with a stick manages to chase the Rottweiler away. The girl sustained severe injuries to her kidney and ribs but is currently in stable condition. Authorities have since arrested the dog’s owner.
The harrowing incident sparked a swift response from officials, triggering a dramatic crackdown on stray dogs across the nation. According to the South China Morning Post, authorities in several cities across Shandong, Hubei, and Jiangxi said they would hunt down dogs and cull them if they were not adopted.
China has a long history of animal cruelty, and the move has reignited the conversation around animal protection in the country. While there are laws to protect livestock and endangered species, animal cruelty is still not a punishable offense in China.
How China’s decision to cull stray dogs polarized online animal activists
The move has divided online activists on social media, with some praising it while others share horrific stories of officials putting down stray dogs. “Just because a large dog bit a child, all of them are being hunted down by ruthless security guards and police,” a user wrote on the Chinese social media platform, Weibo, as per CNN.
Several prominent animal activists and celebrities also joined the discussion on social media. Noted Chinese actor and singer Cya Liu said, “Not all stray dogs are bad just as not all men are good.”
Du Yufeng, founder of the Guangyuan Boai Animal Protection Centre in Sichuan, slammed the officials’ decision to cull stray dogs, saying it won’t send the right message to children. She added, “a one-size-fits-all measure can only create more conflict.”
The Bo Ai Animal Protection Centre of Guangyuan in Sichuan posted on another social media platform, Meipian, saying, “Beating and catching dogs at every turn. Let the world see what our great motherland is like.”
How China treats stray dogs and pets
As per CNN, the 2021 China Pet Industry White Paper revealed the country is home to about 40 million stray dogs. Authorities have often attempted to curb their numbers by putting them down, blaming them for rabies outbreaks.
Recently, China has seen an increase in the number of animal cruelty incidents. In October of last year, a security guard at Liaoning Advertising Vocational College in Shenyang hung a stray dog to death, as per Global Times.
The college subsequently fired him, sharing in a statement that he’d “acted inappropriately when dealing with stray dogs.” It also added that “showing compassion is a minimum requirement” for the school staff.
“This incident reveals insufficient education and management of security personnel, for which the school deeply apologizes. We will enhance training, improve work methods, and upgrade campus management,” the statement continues.
According to South China Morning Post, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, some health workers in China allegedly killed pets while their owners were under quarantine. In one such incident, a video shared on Weibo in November 2021 showed two people striking a Corgi with a crowbar while his owner was under quarantine.
As per NBC News, local authorities issued a statement and apologized to the owner, saying they’d terminated one of the workers. They also mentioned that the workers did not “sufficiently” communicate with her and that “they conducted harmless disposal of the pet dog.”
China’s progress on animal rights in recent years
In a landmark move in April 2020, China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs recategorized dogs as “companion animals” instead of as “livestock,” according to Reuters.
In a statement, the agriculture ministry said, “As far as dogs are concerned, along with the progress of human civilization and the public concern and love for animal protection, dogs have been ‘specialised’ to become companion animals, and internationally are not considered to be livestock, and they will not be regulated as livestock in China.”
Several animal rights activists and groups lauded the move. Wendy Higgins, a Humane Society International representative, described it as “a game-changer moment for animal protection in China.”
In March 2023, Tang Lijun, a deputy to the National People’s Congress (NPC), proposed a pet protection law to prevent the mistreatment and abuse of pets. As per the South China Morning Post, Tang told a Chinese outlet, Thecover.cn, that with the rising number of pets across various Chinese cities, animal cruelty and pet abuse “have been frequently exposed online.”
He mentioned the proposed law would ensure stricter punishment for mistreatment of pets, including imprisonment in extreme cases. Tang also spoke about the growing pet industry in China and the numerous challenges and limitations it faces, including the stray dog issue.
He pointed out that policies pertaining to “raising and breeding pets in China lacks standards, regulation, and transparency, causing animal breeds, numbers and quality to get out of control.”