Poisoned pets

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 August, 2005, 12:00am

If the Bowen Road dog poisoner has been out of the news in Hong Kong since April, that could well be because he has taken his nefarious ways and moved to Beijing. Ten dogs died in two days after eating poisoned meat left on the street, last month, on the Fangxingyuan housing estate in the city's southern suburb of Fengtai.

A report in the local Legal Mirror on July 20 featured a picture of a grief-stricken resident clutching the stiff body of her little Shih Tzu, Yangyang, before lowering it into a grave she had dug near her home.

Offerings of dog biscuits and pet toys placed at small shrines dedicated to dead dogs have become common on the estate, according to the report. Strangely echoing the city's Sars epidemic of two years ago, owners have been clamping muzzles on their pets to prevent them eating the killer's bait.

Poisonings are becoming more frequent as dog ownership surges in Beijing. In another Fengtai estate, more than 10 pets were killed by poison on July 29th and 30th last year. In June and July the year before, some 30 died the same way at three locations. And, in a bizarre bit of role reversal two months ago, restaurants in the capital were put on alert by the city's Department of Hygiene when customers became ill after eating poisoned dog meat. The tainted meat had come from a man in rural Hebei province , who was making a living by poisoning stray dogs and selling their contaminated carcasses.

One explanation for Beijing's increased dog population might be the reduction in the cost of ownership licences from 5,000 to 1,000 yuan in October 2003. But that change was really an attempt to regulate the rapid increase in pet ownership, the vast majority unlicensed. The underlying cause of the pet boom is undoubtedly higher disposable incomes.

Even with the change in legislation, there are many areas where dogs are forbidden, such as Tiananmen Square. In the urban areas of the city, only small dogs can be owned.

This last restriction is probably a necessary feature of dog ownership with Chinese characteristics. Small dogs make less mess, for one thing, although Beijing's new dog lovers have been impressively conscientious about cleaning up after their pets - as opposed to their European counterparts. A small dog's bark is quieter and, most importantly, it is a threat to no one over one-metre tall.

In the Chinese countryside, where rabies used to be endemic, poisoned bait is an accepted method of dealing with nuisance animals. Should Rottweilers and Dobermans appear in the capital's suburbs, then we will surely see more incidents like those at Fangxingyuan.