Dogs have never had it easy in Guangzhou. In the past, the city was replete with restaurants specialising in serving dog meat. Now, in the aftermath of Sars, such restaurants have lost their appeal and the city has clamped down on the eateries.
However, the onslaught of media reports about such diseases has meant that scores of pets are being abandoned by their owners. The cost of owning a dog is one reason. According to Christie Yang, the China relations manager of the Animals Asia Foundation, dog owners in Guangzhou have to pay a 10,000 yuan registration fee and an annual renewal fee of 6,000 yuan - reportedly higher than in Beijing or Shanghai.
Dogs found without a licence are usually taken away by local police and put to sleep, while their owners are fined 5,000 yuan, said Ms Yang. To avoid being fined for owning a dog illegally, some owners have even resorted to cutting their pet's vocal chords so that neighbours and passersby cannot detect its presence.
But a handful of people in Guangzhou are banding together to try to remedy these 'pet peeves'. A dog rescue centre is being set up in Luoxi to give medical aid and shelter to abandoned dogs. 'We already have about 12 dogs under our care,' said Grace Wei, one of the organisers. Ms Wei, who worked for Avon as a sales manager for 10 years, got involved in animal welfare with her husband. Now she and four friends are preparing to get an official licence to set up the rescue centre to treat dogs with a variety of illnesses. 'We get a lot of dogs who either have worms or serious skin problems,' said Ms Wei, who attributes these cases to neglect on the part of owners. 'A lot of dogs are sick because the owners didn't take good care of them.'
She hopes that, after a while, people will be found to adopt the dogs. Meanwhile, volunteers are already helping Ms Wei take care of the animals, taking them to the local veterinary clinic. 'We have a lot of people coming down to do volunteer work to take care of these dogs,' said Ms Wei, who added that she will soon have a web site to explain the purpose of the rescue centre, together with details of how to get involved.
The whole issue of pet abandonment would be better remedied if city officials cracked down not only on illegal pet ownership but also on the illegal selling of animals. There are scores of street hawkers in the Fangcun and Tianhe areas, where shoppers are easy targets when they come face to face with cute animals. Most of these animals die shortly after being sold due to a lack of nutrition. Properly licensed pet stores with pet-care classes would also equip owners with the necessary skills to properly raise an animal.