It may be the Year of the Dog, but this didn’t stop government-ordered slaughter of nearly 55,000 pooches in Yunnan Province last week in response to three human fatalities from rabies.
So is a person’s life roughly equal to that of 18,000 dogs? It appears that many Chinese people are asking the same question and their sympathies are on the side of the creature that we won’t heartlessly and inappropriately refer to as "Yunnan’s best friend".
The torrent of complaint prompted by this indiscriminate slaughter reopens the debate over man’s relationship with domestic beast in China, one that I have always found somewhat perplexing.
Guangdong people’s weakness for a taste of anything with a pulse is well documented, although it never really struck home with me until a visit to the Guangzhou animal market a few years ago. On weirdness alone, this is trumped by a story once told to me by an American girl who studied in Kunming. She and her Chinese roommate were happily watching a documentary about dinosaurs when said roommate broke the silence with: "Dinosaur meat … I wonder what that would taste like … perhaps a little tough."
I have nothing against people thinking with their stomach, but the increasing appetite for keeping – not eating – domestic pets among China’s urban residents seems to create something of a double standard.
One day in Qingdao last year, I spent the morning visiting a market in the city suburbs. There, hanging in the fresh meat section, were the carcasses of several dogs, shorn of both fur and internal organs. Fast forward to the afternoon and I was in the company of a friend who had set up a business selling flashy accessories to dog owners with a penchant for grooming and dressing their pets as they might do a pampered child.
Stepping into a pet shop which stocked collars, leashes, brushes, hats and booties supplied by my friend, I was greeted by the sight of a miserable dog lying on a surgical couch attached to a drip. The animal’s owner sat alongside, eyes moist, gently stroking her pet’s back.
"What’s wrong with your dog?" I asked. "He’s been ill for a week," the distressed woman explained. "When I talk to him he doesn’t answer back."