The video and photos circulated in recent days have distressed many people, and rightly so. The way that dogs are treated like inanimate objects in some parts of China is appalling, and we must take action to change this.
What can we do? My feeling is that the best answer is to work from the basics up: ask our governments to pressurise the Chinese government to introduce animal welfare legislation, so that the culture is gradually changed permanently.
Our society’s view of animals as sentient beings is relatively new
The change of culture in China is a long term project but it is important. We need to remember that our own countries had a heartless attitude to animals in the past: our recognition of animals as sentient, sensitive, intelligent beings is a relatively new phenomenon. When I qualified as a vet in 1985, pain relief was not given to animals after routine surgery, and we had been taught on our veterinary course that many animal responses were “purely reflex”. Our own deeper understanding of animal sentience is remarkably recent.
Our empathy towards animals is the latest part of the gradual evolution of human civilisation. I feel honoured to be part of the unfolding of this side of human sensitivity. How unbearable would it have been to live at a time when dogs were treated around us in the same way as those unfortunate Chinese animals?
Don’t watch the videos but do take action
All dog lovers out there: do not torture yourself by watching those horrific videos. That footage cannot be unseen once you have seen it, and there is no value in distressing your psyche by exposing yourself to those sights and sounds. The mere idea is shocking enough.
But do take action: sign petitions, talk to others, phone talk-in radio shows, speak to politicians. The situation in China will change over time, but if we all take some action, it will change more rapidly.