Tuesday, 5th August 2008
Cats & dogs are the big losers at the Beijing Olympics
With only days to go before the start of the Beijing Olympics, the authorities in China have taken every possible precaution to sanitise the city. ‘Undesirable elements’, which might provoke pro-Tibet or pro-Taiwan protests, have been moved out or arrested. Special parks have been designated where any protesters can be carefully herded and corralled by large numbers of police and security forces during the games. Even the ever-present pollution has been tackled by removing over 1 million vehicles from Beijing’s streets every day and closing down thousands of factories in the suburbs. An eerie calm has settled over the city in excited anticipation of the opening of the games. Not even the barking of dogs is allowed to disturb this strangely tranquil scene. Large dogs have been banned in Beijing and armies of dog-catchers patrol the streets ‘arresting’ pet dogs that are any bigger than a Chihuahua or a terrier, often wrestling them from their owners and taking them to a huge warehouse on the city outskirts, where row after row of cramped cages house the forlorn beasts.
China’s attitude to animals is ambiguous to say the least. While there is a growing middle class who like to own cats and dogs as pets, there are still tens of millions who regard them as only of value for food or fur. Alarmingly, the growing affluence of the Chinese has led to an increased demand for cat and dog meat and fur. Dogs and cats are on sale daily in meat markets across China. They are beaten to death, boiled alive, stabbed and strangled on the spot, or cruelly bound with wire and stuffed into sacks to be slaughtered at restaurants. There is also a burgeoning fur trade with an estimated two million cats and dogs horrifically killed every year to supply Europe with parka-hood trims, ski boot and glove linings, fur coats and rugs and even toy animals for the tourist trade.
After nine years of campaigning with Humane Society International I successfully steered legislation through the European Parliament which will ban the import, export and trade in cat and dog fur in all 27 EU Member States from 1st January next year. This news did not go down well in China. When I met with Animal Welfare Minister Li Yucai and his team at his offices in Beijing last year he said that he could not guarantee that China would stop the trade in cat & dog fur. Amazingly he then went on to deny that all two million cats and dogs that I had mentioned would be skinned alive. “There is no economic advantage in skinning animals alive” he said.
The Minister tried to justify his position by saying “The Chinese Government has worked hard to improve conditions and welfare for animals. Existing laws allow the captive breeding of animals. But China is different from elsewhere as we use wildlife products in traditional Chinese medicines. We have moved from using wildlife to captive resources for this purpose. However, skinning animals alive is not a common practice in China.” Clearly we have touched a raw nerve with the Chinese Government on this issue and despite the successful implementation of our EU ban there remains much work to be done to convince the Chinese to put a stop to this horrific business once and for all.
As we settle down to watch the opening of the XXIX Olympiad in Beijing we should spare a thought for the many millions of dogs and cats that are bred or rounded up in China, crammed into tiny cages and loaded onto trucks to be transported for days under hellish conditions to live animal markets. Here they are bludgeoned to death, strangled, bled our or often boiled alive. Worse still, their death often comes slowly because of the mistaken belief that torture improves taste. In the West we regard companion animals not only as our best friends, but as part of the family. Sadly this is not the case in China.