Beijing Pet Owners Upset by Restrictions on Dogs

Citing an increase in cases of rabies, some local governments in China have been confiscating and killing pet dogs. The capital, Beijing, issued new rules this month limiting each family to one dog.

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You've likely heard of China's rules that attempt to limit families to one child. Now the capital city of Beijing is limiting each family to one dog, and it has to be a small dog no higher than 14 inches. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports on how and why the government is hounding pet owners.

ANTHONY KUHN: Twenty-eight-year-old market researcher Jao Yuang Yi(ph) carries a picture of her beloved pet on her cell phone. It's a big fluffy old English sheepdog named Cotton. For weeks, Jao lived in fear of the police seizing Cotton. One day after a neighbor informed on her and her big pet, there came the dreaded knock on her door.

Ms. JAO YUANG YI: (Through translator) The police started banging hard on the door. We knew it was the police and I feared something unexpected might happen, so I didn't open up. They said if I didn't open the door, they'd take it off its hinges.

KUHN: Luckily, Jao says, the cops were sympathetic. They saw that Cotton was harmless and gave her time to hide the dog before higher authorities came to check. Jao stashed her pet at a suburban dog school but somebody stole Cotton from the school, and since then the distraught and bitter Jao has been searching for her in pet markets across north China, including Manchuria.

Ms. JAO: (Through translator) I don't know why China's government comes up with these policies. I don't know why these policies throw people's lives into such total chaos.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

KUHN: On November 13, around 500 pet owners protested in front of the Beijing Zoo. They held stuffed toy dogs as riot police nervously looked on. Censors quickly erased criticism of the policy in local media and Internet chat rooms. The government says the nationwide crackdown on dogs is a response to an increase in citizen complaints about aggressive dogs and deadbeat owners.

The government also points to an increase in rabies. China's Health Ministry says that 326 people nationwide died of rabies last month, more than from any other infectious disease. But Beijing has only seen two rabies cases in the past two years.

Sun Meiping is director of immunization at the Beijing Center for Disease Control.

Ms. SUN MEIPING (Director of Immunization, Beijing Center for Disease Control): (Through translator) Because rabies cases are on the increase nationwide, Beijing is under threat. But on the whole, the government has emphasized controlling the disease with effective countermeasures. So Beijing residents don't need to worry too much.

KUHN: During the 1960s and '70s China banned pets as a bourgeois and decadent pastime. In China's pre-industrial society people saw animals as creatures to be used or eaten, not as companions. That's begun to change as extended families drift apart and aging parents and offspring of one-child families seek companionship.

Beijing now has over half a million registered dog owners in a city of 12 million.

(Soundbite of dogs barking)

KUHN: Many dog owners have abandoned their pets in the face of the crackdown. Jong Lu Ping(ph) runs a home for abandoned dogs and cats in Beijing's northern suburbs.

Ms. JONG LU PING: (Through translator) There's no law that punishes people who abandoned animals. You can buy, abandon, and kill animals as you please. This has put a lot of pressure on me. My job of protecting animals is very awkward.

KUHN: Angry dog owners and animal rights activists see the current crackdown as a glaring example of bad governance. Ill-conceived and unpopular policies ham-fistedly applied by the police with any resulting dissent stifled. This is hardly the recipe, they say, for the harmonious society that China's leaders talk about in their speeches.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

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