People in China are abandoning their pets over coronavirus fears

by Hayley O'Keeffe

A charity which rescues dogs and cats from the meat trade in China has told how volunteers and pets which are ready to be rehomed are being stranded and put at risk, thanks to the coronavirus outbreak.

Volunteers also say they have witnessed pet cats and dogs being abandoned and confiscated, amid fears that the deadly virus could be transmitted via animals.

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No To Dog Meat

The UK-based No To Dog Meat charity, funds rescue centres in China, where dogs and cats who are destined for meat markets can be brought and eventually rehomed. But the charity says this effort is being hampered by authorities, and some pets and volunteers have been forced to go into hiding.

One volunteer, named Anna, reported that in her area a doctor wrongly told patients that their dogs and cats could be to blame for the spread of coronavirus, which resulted in them being abandoned.

A spokesperson for the charity, said,"Streets, even in Beijing are deserted even in rush hour, and animal lovers are panicking. Many have decided or been pressured to abandon their pets.

"They are now strays and being rounded up by the authorities, who will incinerate them live. Dogs are also being abandoned.

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Volunteers say they have witnessed pet cats and dogs being abandoned and confiscated in China (Photo: No To Dog Meat)

"It is forbidden in many big cities to keep dogs over 35cm in height. Rescuers, however, and genuine Asia activists, including our own, often keep them in their homes. The police have been going door to door seizing pets, and animal lovers have to walk their companion animals in secrecy or at night.

"This is deeply concerning for us as an animal welfare organisation running a sanctuary in China. Many university students who we run education programmes with keeping small pets in their student accommodation.

"We condemn these actions of the Chinese authorities and urge them to address the root cause of hygiene and food safety not to punish good-hearted citizens.

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"It has taken us many years to convince Chinese citizens not to be afraid of dogs and cats and that they can make loving pets and these actions are a worrying step backwards."

An uphill struggle

This is not the first time that No To Dog Meat has been forced to act quickly, and keeping the charity's work going in China has been an uphill struggle for many years.

In 2015, a New York Times exposé expressed concerns from campaigners that a woman - who was, at the time, the subject of one of the charity's campaigns - was misappropriating funds, and treating the animals in her care poorly.

No To Dog Meat bosses flew to China and investigated themselves, immediately stopping funding for the woman's work, and directing funds from the campaign to other more deserving sanctuaries. But that hard and costly lesson only served to highlight continued differing attitudes in China towards pets.

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And, in the midst of this most recent coronavirus threat, the charity feels authorities are not spreading honest public health messages, in favour of blaming pets.

'China is not taking proper safety measures'

The No To Dog Meat spokesperson added, "Markets are a crime scene with the live slaughter of different species.

"Blood, faeces urine encourages the spread of disease. Restaurants are not much better. This epidemic, however, is not the fault of the animals, but how they are treated with zero regard to food safety and animal welfare.

"Despite the fact that assurances from the World Health Organisation have given assurances to the public, China is not taking measures to close all live slaughter meat markets, including fur markets but instead are spreading fear amongst citizens.

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"Currently, our own 430 animals are safe, but we worry if we need to take them for veterinary care outside of our shelter in case we are stopped on the many road checkpoints and our animals confiscated."