Public needs reminder that dogs are responsibilities, not mere toys

By James Palmer Source:Global Times Published: 2015-6-4 23:03:01

Pity the poor Tibetan mastiff, once a symbol of ostentatious wealth for young Chinese, now off to the slaughterhouse. According to a recent report by Andrew Jacobs in the New York Times, the breed, which once commanded prices of up to $250,000, is now going for as an average of just $2,000. A truckload of unwanted mastiffs, discarded by their owners, was stopped by an animal rescue group earlier this year and over 20 of the giant hounds rescued from being turned into fur gloves.

The mastiffs, as Jacobs points out, have fallen victim to the two scourges of the Chinese rich; the economic slowdown and the anti-corruption campaign that has made visible signs of wealth a dangerous risk for those who would rather the authorities don't take a strong interest in their personal finances.

I can't, personally, fathom what could bring somebody, absent major personal crisis, to dump a dog. Dogs love without reservation, and the sight of an abandoned dog frantically searching for its owner is an awful thing.

The selfishness of the callous rich kids who treated these animals as though they were playthings, not responsibilities, is loathsome, while the work and dedication of the rescuers, most of whom are ordinary people without a lot of resources, is heroic.

But the mastiff was always a terrible choice for indifferent owners more interested in the dog as accessory than in taking on the responsibilities of owning a pet. Mastiffs are beautiful, friendly dogs. They're also huge. They take up a lot of space, they eat a lot of food, and they need long walks every day or they become restless and unhappy.

The same goes for many of the prestige breeds that became popular in China in the last few years; they're large dogs that require time and devotion from owners. Golden retrievers, for instance, are a delight, but they often need their own, large cages at home or their puppyish enthusiasm can take out stray valuables.

Large purebreds are also costly, not only in initial outlay but in everyday expenses. Properly feeding a Tibetan mastiff runs into several hundred yuan a week. And because purebreds suffer from more health problems than mutts as a result of inbreeding, they need regular checkups and, as they get older, sometimes expensive surgeries.

But the problem of dog abandonment isn't limited to the large prestige breeds.  As dog ownership has boomed in China's large cities, so has the number of abandoned dogs.

Beijing's few shelters are universally overcrowded, and animal rescue charities such as Together for Animals in China or the Little Adoption Shop are struggling to cope.

Several factors contribute to this. There's a false belief, for instance, that dogs and children aren't compatible, and so dogs are often ditched when a baby comes along. Poorer families who take in a dog often have to leave them behind because they live in uncertain conditions and may be forced to move somewhere they can't bring bets.

But the main cause is simply people who get a dog because they think the idea of it is cute, and then can't cope with the responsibilities of looking after another creature. Even small dogs need attention, daily walks, grooming, and vet visits. 

Abandoned dogs aren't just a matter of conscience, they're an issue for local government. Strays, as well as tugging at the heartstrings, are a health risk.

In the West, campaigns such as the long-running "A dog is for life, not just for Christmas" have considerably reduced the rate of abandonment. Today in the UK, only around 9,000 ownerless dogs have to be euthanized at shelters each year, compared to 40,000 or more each year in the 1990s.

Local governments in China should promote similar campaigns, reminding people that taking on a dog in the first place is a big task, not a casual purchase. At the same time, they can work better with local animal rescue programs to coordinate proper shelter and adoption for strays, and consider cutting the cost of dog registration for rescue dogs to encourage people to take them in. A city with loved, owned dogs is a better place for it.

The author is an editor with the Global Times.
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