After hitting the shelves in 2004, Jiang Rong’s Wolf Totem became such a publishing sensation that it was soon being described as the most well-read book in China.
A year later the dog-loving Yang Zhijun published Tibetan Mastiff, praising the breed’s loyalty and spirit of sacrifice. It became a bestseller too and the two novels even fuelled a debate on which species better exemplifies the development of modern China (the wolf or the mastiff).
But Yang’s novel had another consequence: stirring a surge in demand for Tibetan mastiffs. Because of their high price, the breed is viewed as a symbol of wealth (see WiC100). The popularity of the lion-like dog has also created an industry of breeders and brokers, including retired athletics coach Ma Junren (see WiC61). Meanwhile the Global Times estimates that there are now more than 10,000 mastiff breeding farms in China and more than 100,000 of the dogs nationwide.
The problem is that the mastiff is born to roam mountainous plateaus in places like Tibet and Qinghai. Crowded cities are at odds with their fiercely territorial character. Combined with a lack of exercise, this is often turning the popular pets into an urban malaise. Accounts of attacks by mastiffs on city residents pop up regularly in Chinese newspapers. More bizarre still they even occasionally attack their owner (there were two such accounts last month).
So when the Beijing city government renewed its effort to crack down on “large and vicious dogs” this month, Tibetan mastiffs topped the list of dogs that are to be banned. After tip-offs by neighbours, police have been raiding homes and scores of the large dogs have been confiscated.
In fact, restrictions on large dogs have been in place in the capital for 10 years. But pet owners have long regarded the ban as just another toothless directive and ignored it. So the sudden enforcement of the rules has sent dog lovers scrambling for ways to stop their animals from being impounded.
Some have sent their pets to temporary shelters outside Beijing. According to the Beijing News, others are registering their pets in rural areas and then telling police the dogs are only in Beijing to visit the vet.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, stories about maltreatment of dogs by the authorities have been prominent online. Animal lovers were particularly disturbed when a woman wrote on her weibo of how police had kicked her golden retriever to death. The police meanwhile were indignant when that accusation went viral online – detaining the woman for what they said was a fabricated account.
News of the canine crackdown has made it into the foreign press too, with animal rights advocates telling the New York Times that seized animals are likely to end up in the hands of dog meat traders. That’s another reason why the annual dog meat festival in Guangxi, which began last Friday, has been getting more publicity than usual. Thanks to Beijing’s campaign the fear is that once-loved pets could end up on diners’ plates.
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