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Dogs Not a Rabies Threat in Yushu Earthquake Zone

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Disease control measures that required the mass killing of dogs to prevent the spread of rabies after the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake will not be repeated in the wake of the Yushu earthquake, according to authorities in Qinghai Province.

The decision will save the lives of homeless Tibetan mastiffs, the expensive dogs that many breeders count on for their livelihood in the earthquake region.

Sun Yingxiang, deputy director of the veterinary office of the agriculture and animal husbandry bureau in Qinghai, told the Global Times that epidemic prevention work is going well in Yushu prefecture, and experts have decided it is not necessary to kill homeless Tibetan mastiffs.

"There has been no record of rabies in Yushu in the past 20 years," Sun said. " And we have everything under control."

A week after the Sichuan earthquake, Qingchuan County organized a two-week long dog-killing campaign, the Beijing News reported in 2008.

At the time, earthquake relief directors said the homeless dogs posed a threat to public health because they eat rubbish, attack people and spread disease, the newspaper said.

Statistics provided by Qinghai authorities revealed that more than 40,000 Tibetan mastiffs had received rabies vaccinations by May 1.

Remains of Tibetan mastiffs killed in the quake have all been buried.

Jiang Hong, an employee at the Xi'an-based Red Guava Companion Animal Rescue Center, who returned from Yushu Saturday, told the Global Times Monday that local Tibetan Buddhists have a deep bond with Tibetan mastiffs, a breed that originated in the ancient nomadic cultures of Central Asia.

The dogs are used to guard animal herds, flocks, tents, villages, monasteries and palaces.

"There is no way the local people would allow anyone to hurt their dogs," Jiang said. "They would rather starve themselves than their dogs."

Jiang, who was in Sichuan when the local government ordered the mass extermination of stray dogs, said animal rescue organizations understood the government's public health concerns at that time, but added that Yushu is different.

"We understand that protection should be given to human beings first, animals second," she said.

"Tibetan mastiffs are not just pets and family members, they are also their source of income."

An average mastiff can normally sell for more than 100,000 yuan (US$14,646), and prize purebreds can sell for more than a million, a mastiff breeder told the Xinhua News Agency.

About 2,000 or one-tenth of Tibetan mastiffs in Yushu perished in the 7.1-magnitude quake, Xinhua said Monday.

Before the quake, mastiff breeding was a thriving business in Yushu.

Many breeders fear that their Tibetan mastiffs will die because of shortages of medi-cine and food.

The dog food shortage is expected to reach 200 tons over the next three-months, the report said.

Jiang and two other volunteers delivered 13 tons of dog food to the quake zone, but found that some residents misunderstood their work.

"We had to ask permission to feed their dogs; otherwise they might think we were trying to steal or poison them," she said.

(Global Times May 11, 2010)

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