In 2004, 50,000 cats and dogs were poisoned prior to the Games in Athens, Greece. In London, England, cats have been killed or displaced by the construction of sites for the 2012 Olympic Games. And now with the 2008 Games only months away, Beijing is following a similar path, by rounding up stray cats to “cleanse” the city.
Cat lovers around the globe are questioning whether cats in the city of Beijing, China are being victimized - the target of government efforts to clean up the capital in preparation for the Olympic Games.
Beijing's agricultural bureau director recently ordered that “all stray cats must be caught and taken off the streets before the end of June, to ensure the city looks its best… for the Olympics.”
Cats are being trapped and placed in crowded holding pens, which animal activists are comparing to the size of microwave ovens. The order states that strays unclaimed after 14 days will be “dealt with”.
The Capital Animal Welfare Association located in Beijing estimates 160,000 to 200,000 animals are at risk from the new campaign. Qin Xiaona, head of the animal welfare association told The Times, “the officials said they did not want the Olympic athletes to see a single stray animal. This is partly because the Chinese care so much about face.” Mrs. Qin wants to know from the International Olympic Committee and the athletes: “Do they feel that they can take part comfortably in the Olympics if the price of the games is the lives of so many animals?”
China's leaders are convinced that animals pose a serious urban health risk and may have contributed to the outbreak of SARS - a deadly respiratory virus - in 2003.
Cat owners, terrified by the disease warning, are dumping their pets in the streets to be picked up by special collection teams. Thousands of pet cats in Beijing are being abandoned by their owners in response to these government pressures.
Welfare groups estimate that tens of thousands have been collected in the past few months.
The cull of Beijing's estimated 500,000 cat population is certain to provoke international outrage as it comes just over a year after the Chinese were criticized for rounding up and killing stray dogs across the country. Animal welfare groups in China are already protesting, but their members fear punishment from the authorities.