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Archive for Wednesday, May 7, 2003

China’s pets killed in SARS hysteria

May 7, 2003

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— In a grim reflection of this city's determination to subdue the SARS epidemic, authorities in protective suits are killing dogs, in some cases by beating them, while their owners are locked away in hospital wards as suspected or confirmed SARS cases.

Some pet owners, fearing that their animals could carry SARS, are taking grisly measures with their own dogs and cats, or abandoning them to a grim fate, since stray animals are also being put down by authorities. Still others, fearing a violent end for their pets at the hands of authorities or neighbors, are pre-emptively asking veterinarians to euthanize their animals.

There is no proof that dogs and cats can spread SARS, but some local authorities and state media accounts have given the impression that domestic animals are a SARS threat.

Local government officials said that both abandoned dogs and pets of owners suspected to have SARS will be killed, and in some districts, the message has been vaguer.

"In remote districts, they sent out propaganda trucks saying you better dispose of your own animals," said Yin Tieyuan, a veterinarian at Sai Jia Animal Hospital in Beijing. "On that day people came here (trying to euthanize their pets), because they were afraid if they didn't do it, they would be forced to kill their pets painfully."

Yin said he turned away his would-be clients, telling them their dogs were healthy and shouldn't be killed, but he said many owners either searched for a willing vet or abandoned their pets. He said misleading accounts on state media have increased the anxiety.

One expert in virology said on a nationally televised show that animals may spread the virus, but the expert made no distinction between farm animals and pets: "You shouldn't broadcast something so irresponsible," Yin said.

The government should step in to correct the misinformation, as Hong Kong officials did early in that city's outbreak, Yin said.

"When people first started to abandon their pets, the health minister in Hong Kong came out to clarify that these pets have nothing to do with SARS, and very quickly people stopped abandoning their pets," Yin said. "But so far Beijing government hasn't come up with any kind of announcement like this."

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