Saving dogs brings hefty bill for rescuers

Updated: 2013-07-11 02:35

By Yang Yao (China Daily)

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A court decision on Tuesday that resulted from an animal rescue two years ago has thwarted the zeal of many dog lovers, but also triggered discussion on better ways to protect animals.

On April 15, 2011, volunteers for the China Small Animal Protection Association spotted a truck loaded with more than 500 dogs on the Beijing-Harbin expressway that was headed for a slaughterhouse.

Volunteers stopped the truck and took the dogs to the headquarters of the association, where they were given medical care while waiting to be adopted.

The volunteers did not receive applause, however, but a lawsuit.

The dispute also involved Tencent, the major Internet company, as Sun Zhonghuai, its vice-president, said on his micro blog at the time that the company would take care of the dogs that were rescued. However, no aid has been received from the company.

Ten veterinary clinics that treated the dogs lodged a suit with a court in Beijing's Haidian district on May 28, requesting the association and the company pay 500,000 yuan ($81,500) in treatment fees.

The court issued a decision on Tuesday that the association should pay 400,000 yuan as it has ownership of the dogs.

However, Tencent has no legal obligation to pay for the dogs' rescue, said the court.

A spokesman for the association told China Daily it has not yet decided whether to appeal, but says Tencent should keep its word. The cash-strapped NGO relies only on public funding to pay its bills, he said.

Peng Tao, a volunteer with the association in Chongqing, said the court decision has sent a signal that saving dogs can be an expensive impulse action, which reflects the deeper issue of the unregulated dog meat industry.

"Every rescue mission ends up as a farce," he said.

Peng said that, in his experience, all the dogs being transported are stolen from households, as most are expensive pet breeds.

"It should be up to the government, not us, to stop dog stealing," he said. "The best way to prevent this chaos from happening again is by strengthening dog transport quarantine rules, which relies on better legislation and law enforcement," said Sun Quanhui, chief scientist with the World Society for the Protection of Animals.

According to Sun, a rational method for protecting animals needs two facets — legislation and public participation.

"Dogs are not subject to slaughter or food quarantine regulations," he said. "This loophole results in conflicts between the dog-meat industry and dog lovers."

The Ministry of Agriculture issued a transportation quarantine regulation on dogs and cats on April 22, but they do not come under any food quarantine laws.

Sun said the animal protection associations, instead of getting themselves in the middle of lawsuits, should play a larger role in educating and influencing communities to care more about animals.