Dogs are a controversial animal in China, as in certain provinces, consuming dog meat is considered a delicacy with a long culinary history. There are also strict rules around owning certain kinds of dogs in cities such as Beijing, attributed to the belief that large dogs are inherently aggressive.
Nevertheless, dogs-as-delicacy has been declining in popularity in China in recent years, and now things could change further amid the coronavirus outbreak. The Chinese government just created new guidelines to reclassify dogs as pets rather than livestock, a game-changer for animal welfare organizations.
“Alongside the development of human civilization and the public’s care toward protecting animals, dogs have now evolved from being traditional livestock to companion animals,” the notice from the government reads, adding that dogs aren’t typically regarded as livestock worldwide.
The measure follows on the heels of February’s nationwide ban on the trade and consumption of wildlife in China. The country’s legislature fast-tracked the enactment of the ban in large part due to widespread suspicions that the COVID-19 outbreak stemmed from a novel coronavirus being transmitted from wild animals to humans
Included on the latest list of livestock animals are 13 types of “traditional livestock” such as pigs, cows, chickens, and turkeys, and 18 types of “special livestock” such as various kinds of deer, all of which could be raised for the purpose of eating, according to the ministry.
What exactly the change in classification will mean for dogs remains to be seen. In theory, it will make it illegal for dogs to be bred to provide food, milk, fur, fiber, and medicine, or to serve the needs of sports or the military, and in turn, make it easier for authorities to control dogs-for-meat breeding enterprises.
Given the clear classification of dogs as companion animals by the ministry, local governments in China could follow suit to set up regulations banning the consumption of not only wildlife, but also pets. Shenzhen, the southern Chinese city bordering Hong Kong, became the first one to do so.
Around 10 million dogs and four million cats are estimated to be slaughtered and eaten in China every year, according to Hong Kong-based animal welfare group Animals Asia, but the practice is coming under increasing criticism from the country’s growing ranks of pet lovers.
In 2016, a group of dog lovers tried to stop a truck that was carrying 320 dogs headed for a slaughterhouse on a highway in Hebei province. They ended up getting into a fight with the truck driver and causing a massive traffic jam.
“This draft proposal could signal a game-changer moment for animal protection in China,” Wendy Higgins, a Humane Society International spokeswoman, told Reuters.