Today marks the start of the lunar new year as celebrated across Asia and the diaspora. The lunar new year marked the start of preparations for a new growing season and is based on the moon’s orbit around the earth rather than the western calendar that is calculated according to the earth’s orbit around the sun. Chinese New Year falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice.
Legend tells that the Chinese new year traditions started because villagers drove out the marauding Nian using firecrackers and red lanterns as his winter hunger caused him to eat livestock and villagers. The Jade Emperor, the first Chinese deity, sent an immortal being into man’s world to select twelve guards for his palace. The animals set off towards the Heavenly Gate, determined to be chosen. Rat got up very early but had to stop at a river. He noticed Ox about to cross the river and hitched a ride on Ox’s ear to win first place. The Year of the Rat starts the 12 and 60 year cycle. Tiger and Rabbit came third and fourth. Good-looking Dragon and crafty Snake came next. Kind and modest Horse and Goat followed with Monkey tailing behind. Lastly, Rooster, Dog and Pig became the guards of the Heavenly Gate, the coming 11th in the race because he frolicked along the way due to his playful nature. According to the Chinese horoscope and the Taoist tradition, each animal is either yin or yang. Each in turn is mitigated by fire, earth, metal, wood or water. 2018 is the year of the yang earth dog. The Hour of the Dog is 19.00 to 21.00 and the dog is associated with the ninth lunar month.
There are many myths and legends involving dogs in Chinese culture and various ethnic groups claim to have had a divine dog as a forebear and dogs accompanied and assisted various legendary heroes. Several peoples preserve a myth that a dog provided humans with the first grain seeds, thus enabling the seasonal cycle of planting, harvesting and replanting. The black dog is also a metaphor for a meteor and is thought to eat the sun or moon during an eclipse. In northern China, paper images of dogs were thrown into water during the Duanwu Festival celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month to drive away evil spirits. Paper dogs were also used to protect the dead.
Although not proven conclusively, it is thought that the dog may have first evolved as a domestic animal in China, followed by two major evolutions of the northern basal breeds and then those from the fertile crescent. The Shar Pei and Chow Chow are some of the earliest dogs to have evolved from a now extinct mega-fauna wolf in Asia.
Dogs have mixed cultural associations in China and are, of course still used as a food animal; dog meat restaurants exist in most major cities. As China becomes a wealthier nation, there has been a steep rise in the number of dogs kept solely as companion animals with has been reported that overzealous enforcers confiscate and kill large dogs that have been deemed to have been owned illegally. There are no national welfare or anti-cruelty laws and consequently no prosecutions for mistreatment. Mass culls of dogs still take place when an rabies outbreak occurs. Before we rush to condemn these practices, we should remember that animal welfare legislation covering both companion and food animals in the UK does not prevent suffering and that much legislation is simply not policed or enforced where dogs are concerned. Rabies is largely limited to some bats in Scotland, although of course, all that can change with illegal imports continuing in huge numbers below the radar.
So 2018 is the Year of the Dog. Caution in financial dealings is advised by the CLSA Feng Shui Index. Others predict (not surprisingly) a year of social change and many uprisings throughout the world, but apparently it is worse when the dog year is a Yang Metal year.
Whether you have any truck with these beliefs or not, Happy New (Dog) Year to all and here is my wish list for dogs in 2018:
- Vastly more resources put into educating owners to improve all aspects of welfare
- Actual policing and enforcing of all statutes involving dogs
- The introduction of compulsory domestic passports with mandatory neutering, vaccination and effective worming added to mandatory chipping unless certified as contra-indiciated by a registered veterinary surgeon
- The cessation of sales of dogs (and all live animals) via websites such as eBay, Gumtree and Pets4Homes
- The effective policing of canine imports and a ban on importing “rescue” dogs.
What’s on your list?