Natural History: Human-canine interaction in southwest China

On the evening of Wednesday, December 7th, 2016, I was walking down an alleyway in the center of Kunming, provincial capital of China’s Yunnan Province. I had just purchased a half-pineapple on a stick from a street vendor and was enjoying the sights, sounds and culinary delights of the “eternal spring city.” But my stroll was abruptly and violently interrupted by the snarls, yelps and cries of two fighting dogs. One of the animals was tied to a tree with an absurdly short rope. He became helpless as the fight intensified. I watched, equally helpless, as the situation deteriorated. The tied-up dog started to cry desperately. Finally, a hostess from a small restaurant across the alley came at the dogs with a broom. She proceeded to whack the them repeatedly until the tool finally broke over one of them. The shamed combatant — a buff, aggressive-looking brute — then crawled back to its respective turf, leaving its beaten rival to lick it’s wounds. Had the woman not taken action, the leashed dog, a gorgeous member of the husky family, would no doubt have ended up much worse. When the air cleared, I went over to pet the traumatized creature. It stared blankly. Blood from its wounds dripped onto the pavement. One of the restaurant staff from across the alley (I can’t remember if it was the same woman who grabbed the broom) came over to wipe up the blood from the street, but hardly anyone came to solace or mend the injured dog. A school boy walked over and gently pat it on the head. The next day when I recounted this feature of the story to my colleague, she asked “What happened to the adults?” 

Each day I have come to visit the dog since, it has been tied in the same place, with the same cruel length rope by the same negelctful owners. I fear to set it free because it may be be subject to an even worse fate at the hands of animal control or restaurant-hired dog hunters. I myself will leave Kunming in the middle of January. The only thing that gives me hope in all this is that the dog’s owners only treat it so because of ignorance. Responsible pet ownership is on the rise in China, evidenced by the growing number of veterinarians and pet shops. 

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