Pet owners and dog farm owners irked by new registration rule, but experts insist it is needed to fight rabies
Members of a pet club in Hanoi. A new decision requiring owners to report the number of dogs and cats they have to local authorities is viewed by most affected residents as a needless headache.
"It's like making a birth certificate for them. Do I have to obtain a death certificate for them when they dead?"
Pham Van Duoc of Quang Nam Province is incensed at a new decision requiring all those who own cats and dogs to register their number with local authorities.
The decision, introduced for the first time in Vietnam, also requires that local authorities are informed of any change in the number of animals. It applies not only to those who own cats and dogs as pets, but also those who breed the animals for sale.
Issued on November 14, the regulation is part of a national program launched last year to control and eliminate rabies by 2015.
The announcement has been met with howls of protest from many people, including pet owners, pet farm owners and slaughterhouses as well. They feel the regulation is too cumbersome to comply with and would not allow them to go about their business normally.
Duoc said the regulation should only be implemented in big cities.
"We have raised dogs for years without any problem. The new regulation will bother the people in rural areas," he said.
In the capital city of Hanoi, meanwhile, Nguyen Van Tuan is worried that he will be too busy working on his dog farm to go to the office of local authorities and keep updating the number of animal.
"We raise ten dogs for breeding and dozens others for selling for food. We also sell puppies as well as buy and sell dogs," said the resident of Thanh Tri District whose main income comes from raising dogs for meat.
"We must have one family member just to go to the ward office to report the fluctuations in their number every day," he said.
While the decision does not require registration of each animal, knowing how many animals are there in a house or farm will help authorities assign people to vaccinate them against rabies, as also catch stray dogs and cats, officials said.
Stray animals caught will be kept for three days at a local shelter, and if no owner turns up to claim them and pays a fine to retrieve them, they would be killed to safeguard human health.
The regulation aims to raise people's awareness of the danger of rabies and improve the quality of the rabies control system.
It expects to manage 80 percent of dogs nationwide with vaccinations and reduce rabies deaths by 30 percent over last year.
The reasons put forth by authorities for the decision, including reducing rabies deaths in the country, have failed to impress affected residents who say it creates too much paperwork and cannot be implemented properly.
Hoang Van Hung, the owner of a dog farm in the coastal province of Khanh Hoa who often imports expensive dogs from abroad to breed and selling pups as pets, said: "My dogs have all relevant papers and when I sell a dog, I have to obtain approval from local animal health agencies. I have them vaccinated regularly. There is no need to require further registration."
Many people raising dogs for the house or for meet also maintain that the regulation is unnecessary.
Nguyen Van Tuoc, a resident of Thanh Hoa Province, said dogs and cats should only be vaccinated and not be managed by local authorities.
"Dogs are both housekeepers and an income source for many people. They can either keep them or sell for a little money and should not have to register them," he said.
The owners of many slaughterhouses say it is impossible for them to follow the regulation because the number of animals in their establishments varies in a matter of hours.
Van Dang Ky, head of the epidemiology division under the Department of Animal Health, said the new decision will be implemented early next year.
There has been no accurate census made on the number of dogs and cats nationwide, but rough estimates in April put the number in excess of 10 million dogs and cats, he said.
"We expect to expand the vaccination program on dogs and cats to reduce deaths because of rabies. We are not going to issue a code for each animal," he said.
Ky said every year around 500 people are vaccinated after being bitten by animals, mostly dogs and cats.
"The actual number is much higher because many people do not bother to get themselves vaccinated after being bitten," he said.
According to the Ministry of Health, rabies killed 74 people in the first nine months this year, mostly in northern cities and provinces. The zoonotic disease killed 110 people nationwide last year.
Nguyen Tran Hien, director of the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, said the number of rabies patients has increased over the past several years, and 96 percent of them are infected by house dogs.
"Meanwhile, most localities are unable to manage the raising of dogs and cats. Only between 30-40 percent of dogs and cats are vaccinated," he said, adding that many people are not even aware of all the important facts about rabies.
Ashley Fruno, senior campaigner with animal rights advocacy organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Asia, said she supports the new decision because it offers measures to reduce animal suffering.
"Although the new regulations will require a great deal of initial paperwork, these types of licensing regulations are effective in many other countries," she told Vietweek.
She said the most effective ways to reduce stray animal populations and control the spread of rabies are laws mandating that guardians have their animals sterilized and registered.
"Countries that have the lowest incidences of rabies and the least number of stray animals like Australia and those in North America and parts of Europe are also the countries in which the awareness of the need for spaying and neutering is the highest, and in which animal licensing regulations are strict."
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