July 18, 2008

Animal Activists Outraged By Beijing Dog Restrictions

A Beijing law has made it illegal to have dogs larger than 35 centimeters (1.1 foot) tall. Any dogs larger than that are subject to being put down by authorities.

Dog lovers in China regularly complain about Beijing's strict laws against large dogs. They believe the law harks back to the belief of past communist leader Mao Zedong who believed that people who kept dogs as pets were timewasters.

As pet ownership in China booms, Beijing dog owners are upset over the city law on large dogs, and the expensive annual license fees for small dogs that can be as much as 1,000 Yuan ($150).

Beijing strictly enforces the law. Recently a visually impaired Paralympic medalist was unable to have her guide dog registered before the Olympics and Paralympics in September. She is supposed to carry the torch at the opening ceremony.

"I know it's pet owners' responsibility to register their dogs, but current regulation doesn't allow me to do so," said Deng, owner of "Lucky," a Golden Retriever whose height is above permissible size. "For big dogs, being captured by the police almost always leads to a dead end."

703,897 pet dogs were registered to Beijing's 17 million residents in 2007. The number is up 17.3 percent from 2006. The number is believed to be much higher if illegal dogs like Lucky are factored in.

Excluded from the law are foreign diplomats. They are often seen with large Siberian Huskies, Labradors, and Golden Retrievers.

Beijingers often comply with the rule and choose to own Chihuahuas or fluffy Pekinese.

Some animal activists are concerned about heavy enforcement of the law after the Olympics end and Beijing is removed from the spotlight.

They believe China's desire to be looked upon well by the rest of the world before the Olympics is keeping dog catchers at bay, and pet lovers quiet about the law.

In November 2006, hundreds of animal activists took to the Beijing streets to protest government raids that killed tens of thousands of dogs.

Beijing officials insist they have not eased off on big dogs before the summer games.

"We are carrying out measures as we did in the past," said a spokesman for Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau. "Any dogs without proper licenses will be treated accordingly."

Authorities have been extra responsive to animal rights lately ordering restaurants to stop serving dog meat.

According to Zhao Jian, an animal rights activist in Beijing," the government has softened its stance on the problem of dog keeping" to maintain social stability.

Zhao, a practicing doctor of 40 years, is a critic of the large dog law.  He says the law has resulted in owners dumping large dogs in the country where they are then exposed to rabies.  Rabid dogs are already a problem in rural China, and the law will only make it worsen.

He has sent over 30 letters in the past three years asking the Beijing officials to end the ban.

"I am outraged by the bureaucracy, snub and inefficiency in relevant governmental departments," said the 61-year old Zhao.

He is confident that Beijing will drop the law in time, despite the lack of action.  Shanghai currently has no height limit for dogs, and the Henan province recently raised its limit to 55 cm (1.8 foot).

According to Wang Jin, a professor at Peking University Law School, the rules are out of date.

"Existing regulations on dogs were made by relevant departments for their own convenience. (They) inevitably deviate from common practice," said Wang.

Lu Di, who founded China's first organization to protect small animals in 1992, said that introducing better animal welfare laws to protect dogs and cats would help, not hinder, government objectives.

"To care for and protect small animals actually (helps) to build up a 'harmonious society'," Lu said.