Pei Su’s blog: the repercussions of Coronavirus

Disturbing news reports from China suggest that government councils and local communities are blaming their pets for the tragic spread of Coronavirus

Last weekend, our web news on Coronavirus offered some insight into the role that exploiting wild animals for commercial profit has played in the spread of Coronavirus. But news moves fast, and now we must respond again as a needless backlash against companion animals is reported to take hold in Asia.

We all know the dangers of fake news, and commenting on events as they unfold means walking a fine line – for all of us. It’s hard to establish the truth once news is reported second/third/fourth hand – or worse – so we must defer to the experts before we jump to any conclusions.

The news is rife with terrible stories of companion animals on the receiving end of abuse and neglect, resulting from false suspicion that dogs and cats can spread Coronavirus to humans. Despite reassurance from the World Health Organisation (WHO) stating that dogs and cats have their own species-specific versions of Coronavirus that cannot be transmitted to any other species, the fear appears to be growing. Troubling reports range from government culls of dogs and cats, to pet owners throwing animals to their deaths from tower blocks. Agents from around the world are asking us if the stories and supporting images are true.

To the best of our knowledge through research on the ground, we can say that we have not found ‘official’ culling of dogs by the Government in China. However, in some cities, local communities are calling residents to restrict the movement of companion dogs, and there is some opposition to keeping pets at all. Such scares and negative attitudes towards companion animals are common when there is an outbreak of disease. Reports and footage support claims that some pets were left home along for what was intended to be a short period over New Year, but turned out to be much longer due to restrictions placed on movement across China. Some dogs and cats have reportedly been released from apartments by force while their owners have been unable to return home. Through these responses, we can say with certainty that pet ownership is a relatively new concept in Asia, so the responsibilities that come with pets are not yet fully understood by most of society.

It is because Asian culture is new to pet-ownership that ACTAsia uses education to help people meet their responsibilities. We start teaching children about the needs of pets in Grade 1, as it’s an ideal way to introduce them to animal sentience. It helps them develop compassion at a time when they are starting to develop their own values. But these concepts are in their infancy across much of Asia, and many societies have a long way to go.

Our Caring for Life Education programme also teaches people the potential dangers of manipulating and exploiting nature for commercial profit. We encourage the public to think about the origins of the goods and services they consume and the impact they have on our planet, including meat, wildlife products and animal fur, technology, toys, holidays, plastic and much more.

Tragically, there are always people on every continent who abuse animals through commercial exploitation or for sadistic pleasure, and sadly it is likely that Coronavirus is being used as an opportunity and excuse for some such abuse. But please be reassured that these cases are by far the exception, not the norm.

At ACTAsia, we work with children and adults to help them develop compassion and critical thinking. We encourage them to become responsible guardians for our planet, sympathetic towards each other, considerate consumers and compassionate pet owners.

We’re in no doubt that a permanent ban should be placed on live animal markets and intensively farmed animals across Asia, whether wildlife, fur-bearing animals, dogs, cats or other pets, birds or fish. Our reasons extend far beyond the dangers of Coronavirus. But this viral outbreak underlines the message that forcing nature into unnatural circumstances for human gain is ultimately always a bad idea. Through education, we must take action to ensure this is never allowed to happen again.

Read our news Coronavirus: the deadly consequences of our exploitation of animals?