The hayday of China’s once booming Tibetian mastiff market has come to a close. Previously, this majestic breed was kept by wealthy families as a trendy, rather pricey pet and status symbol — one dog could even be sold for as much as a million yuan. But, recently, interest in the breed has declined dramatically, leading to the abandonment of a significant portion of the country’s overbred mastiff population.
By 2015, about one-third of mastiff breeders in the Tibet Autonomous Region had closed down their businesses, and the annual trade in mastiffs in neighboring Qinghai province had dropped from over 200 million yuan ($29 million) at its peak to less than 50 million yuan ($7.2 million), according to China Dialogue. Upon closing up shop, many breeders simply left their dogs on the street.
This continues to cause problems in the region today, besides the insane amount of dog feces on the street and the diseases that these animals carry, free-roaming Tibetan mastiffs have proved to be a danger to livestock and even people. Last November, an 8-year-old girl died after she was mauled by a stray in Qinghai. There are regular reports of mastiffs chasing people in packs and even small towns are known to have a population of at least 500 stray dogs.
“The sharp decline in the price is one reason behind the rise in homeless Tibetan dogs, and the other is their strong fertility. Some local governments built a shelter to cage thousands of Tibetan dogs but after a few months, the number of dogs increased,” Jiang Hong, head of a Xi’an-based animal protection group told the Global Times.
Such is the case in Maozhuang Township, in southern Qinghai, where city officials raised 200,000 yuan to build a dog shelter in 2015, but are still struggling to keep it running. When the shelter open, they received 1,200 dogs in two weeks and they still count around 600 dogs some two years later.
Keeping mastiffs off the street is a costly business — even though the shelter receives regular donations of leftover food from local restaurants, they still spend 20,000 yuan a month on dog food. Adding to this is the salaries for the employees, who usually don’t work at the shelter for long. In the past two years, six workers have quit, citing the high amount of stress that taking care of the animals puts on them.
Although some local governments in Tibet and Qinghai have considered simply culling off the dangerous stray dogs, that idea has been met with resistance by the mostly Tibetan Buddhist population, who consider it sinful to slaughter animals. While this opposition led to a surge in the construction of dog shelters in the area, with some monasteries even paying for the sterilization of female dogs, it’s not clear how lasting these efforts can be. With the overall unwillingness of the locals to actually adopt the dogs, the future of these once prized pets remains uncertain.
By Máté Mohos
[Images via The Paper / China Dialogue]
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