Chaofen was a five year-old corgi with an owner who doted on him so much that she installed surveillance cameras at home so she could keep an eye on him when she was out. That also allowed his owner, a Ms Fu, to look on in horror as two epidemic prevention officers came into her apartment in Shangrao city in Jiangxi province in mid-November, before bludgeoning Chaofen to death.
Ms Fu, had been moved to a quarantine centre after people in her building tested positive for Covid-19. She had not been tested herself at that point (and the test later proved negative). But the disturbing video, which went viral on social media, shows the dog waking up as the two men (in hazmat suits) force their way into the apartment.
“Did the boss say to settle this on the spot?” asks one, armed with a crowbar. “Yes,” replies his colleague as Chaofen cowers under a table. The first worker then delivers the first of several blows to the dog’s head, before the animal is slung into a disposal bag and carried out.
According to Ms Fu at least two other animals in the building were killed the same day, although no other pet owners have come forward to confirm this.
Jiangxi province is experiencing a small-scale outbreak of Covid with some 70 cases reported since the end of October. As in other cities, Ms Fu was moved to a quarantine centre so her building could be “decontaminated” after positive tests.
News of Chaofen’s death unleashed fury online, notching up well over 600 million hits. The Shangrao government then added fuel to the fire by describing the culling of Chaofen as a “harmless treatment”, albeit one it had “failed to fully communicate” to the dog’s owner.
As readers of WiC will know, China is becoming more of a nation of pet lovers, but the local government’s brutally botched handling of the Chaofen case would never have caused such a storm were it not for the power of social media.
The incident is reminiscent of scenes in Wuhan in February of last year. There, more than 20,000 pets were thought to have been left unattended as families were moved from their homes, or prevented from returning to them, leading to scenes of people feeding neighbours dogs with bamboo poles from adjacent balconies. Animal welfare campaigners also broke lockdown rules to rescue pets trapped in apartments and on the brink of starvation.
As part of China’s zero-Covid strategy many stray animals have also been killed, with some pet owners opting to have their animals put down on fears they might transmit the Covid virus.
A few pets, including three cats in Harbin, have tested positive for Covid after their owners contracted the virus, but there is no evidence that animals have passed the infection back to humans.
Such was the public anger over Chaofen’s demise that Ms Fu was required to remove her original post protesting against the killing. The Shangrao government then announced that she had accepted an apology from the officials concerned and that she was “understanding of the local epidemic prevention measures”.
The statement also said that the two sanitation workers had been removed from their posts.
But even state media found it hard to defend the local government’s stance. “There is absolutely no requirement for pets to be killed,” the state broadcaster CCTV noted in a short commentary, adding that “how society treats animal shows how civilised it is”.
The reaction overseas was also fierce. In Britain there was shock, with the Daily Mail describing the affair as “horrifying”.
The Washington Post in the United States reported that the “brutal beating” of the corgi had sparked debate over whether “Beijing’s zero-tolerance attitude towards the coronavirus pandemic has gone too far”. An article on CNN’s website took the same line, seeing the killing of the dog as a sign of how government power has “grown unchecked” in the name of Covid protection.
Back in China Chaofen’s killing was a reminder of the human affinity with ‘man’s best friend’. As one weibo user wrote in a widely-liked post: “I stopped watching the video after the first strike. My heart breaks. If I were the owner, how sad and miserable I would be.”
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