Beijing Crackdown on Dogs Sparks Protest

The Associated Press
Saturday, November 11, 2006; 8:05 AM

BEIJING -- Demonstrators angry at a crackdown on dogs staged a noisy protest in China's capital on Saturday, decrying police killings of dogs and new limits on pet ownership.

About 200 police strung up tape to cordon off the roughly 500 demonstrators who waved signs and chanted near the entrance to the Beijing Zoo. Many clutched stuffed animals and wore buttons that said "Stop the indiscriminate killing."

Police detained at least 18 demonstrators in nearby vans for several hours before releasing them, protesters said. Police declined comment.

Touching off the demonstration were new restrictions that limit households to one dog and ban larger breeds. Police in recent days have gone through city neighborhoods, seizing unregistered dogs and beating some of them to death, witnesses said.

"All of us who have dogs to walk are feeling very anxious," said Wu Jiang, a protester and pet shop owner who has a yellow Labrador retriever. "Most of us only dare come out at night and even then we have to be really careful."

Keeping pets has been controversial in China for decades. Banned as a middle-class habit during the radical Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and '70s, dog-raising surged anew with the introduction of free-market reforms.

Complaints about vicious dogs, barking and excrement-covered sidewalks prompted Beijing to impose height limits in 1995, banning dogs taller than 14 inches from the city center. Many cities have enacted similar measures.

A sharp rise in rabies cases this year led to a renewed clampdown across China. State-run newspapers reported Saturday that 326 people died from rabies in October, again making it the leading cause of death among infectious diseases.

To enforce the crackdown, police in many parts of the country have beaten stray or unregistered dogs to death, sometimes in front of their owners.

Beijing responded by raising fines for having unregistered and unvaccinated dogs, adopting the new one-dog-per-family rule and extending the ban on larger dogs from the city center to encompass the surrounding suburbs.

"We're asking city residents to go along with us and if they discover any unregistered or stray dogs to report to us by phone," the Beijing News quoted the city's vice director of agriculture, Ren Zonggang, as saying in comments on the government's Web site.

In some cases, protesters said, dog-owners have been given as little as one week's notice to get rid of their large dogs or move to outlying districts. Protesters said the measures are not only inhumane but wrongly place the burden of punishment on the dogs, not the owners.

"The main point here should be the way dog owners raise their dogs," said Jeff He of the International Fund for Animal Welfare in Beijing, who watched the protest from beyond the cordon of yellow and black police tape.

Organizers of the protest said they had applied for a permit but had been refused. Though the demonstration was largely peaceful, anti-riot squads in helmets and dark uniforms were dispatched, plainclothes police milled through the crowds and large numbers of uniformed police sat in trucks down the street.

Police tried to prevent reporters from taking pictures and warned protesters that they could suffer serious consequences for their actions.

"It was like martial law out there," said Wu Jiang, the pet shop owner. "We said to them 'We're taxpayers. Why are you treating us this way?'"

Police used loudspeakers on a nearby van to urge protesters to take their complaints to a special desk set up inside the zoo. Nine representatives of the protesters were taken inside the zoo to discuss the protest with police, protesters said.

© 2006 The Associated Press