Rabies cull has Guangzhou residents hiding their dogs
Frightened dog owners in Guangzhou are hiding their pets in their homes as police round up and put to death hundreds of unregistered animals across the city to tackle the spread of rabies.
They fear police will break into their homes to seize dogs as officials offer rewards for informants. Unlicensed pets have already been seized from parks and veterinary clinics in the city, owners say.
Dogs have been slaughtered in the street, sometimes in front of their owners, by culling teams operating elsewhere in the province, according to e-mails sent to Hong Kong-based animal welfare group Animals Asia.
Pet owners say they have no choice but to hide their dogs because they cannot afford the registration fee of 10,000 yuan, followed by a 6,000 yuan annual fee. Dogs over 40cm high are banned outright.
Only 800 of the estimated 60,000 dogs kept as pets in the city are registered because of the registration fees, introduced in 1997, which make it more expensive to keep a dog in Guangzhou than to licence most cars in Hong Kong.
Police and government officials say they are taking action because of the spread of rabies and because hundreds of people are being bitten by dogs every day in Guangzhou, claiming 25,000 were injured by dogs between January and July.
They say they are taking only oversized and stray dogs away, and will give warnings and advice to other dog owners, although police say they may enter people's homes if they have information about unregistered pets.
Pet owners said they had been warned that the crackdown would be intensified over this National Day weekend and they had appealed to Animals Asia to help stop the culling of pets.
The Guangzhou campaign follows similar crackdowns in Shanghai and other cities across the mainland as dog attacks and rabies cases increase and more urban dwellers keep pets.
But while Beijing has reduced the registration fee for dogs from 5,000 yuan to 1,000 yuan and Shenzhen has scrapped the fee, Guangzhou has maintained the 10,000 yuan fee.
Yang Min, of Animals Asia, said: 'The situation in Guangzhou is really worrying now. A lot of desperate people have been writing letters to us asking for help.
'We keep writing to the mayor and to the People's Congress to try to influence the policy, but I don't know what effect we can have.'
Animals Asia workers realised the scale of the crackdown when a stream of pet owners came up to them when they held an event at a supermarket in Guangzhou to coincide with World Animal Day last week.
'One pet owner came to me and told me she felt so sad,' Ms Yang said. 'Her dog is lovely and she is a very responsible pet owner. She is afraid the government wants to take her dog away and kill it.
'People are quite desperate and they are scared to take their pets outside. They won't even go to the veterinary clinic because police and officials have already been there and confiscated unregistered dogs.
'Dog owners are living in fear. A lot of them are exchanging information about how to deal with these people when they come to their home to take their dogs away. They say they just won't open the door.'
Ms Yang said she did not understand why such a tough line against dog ownership was being taken in Guangzhou.
'It seems that they just don't want people to have dogs at all in Guangzhou,' she said.
The Guangdong Provincial Bureau of Health said 244 people died of rabies in the province last year - a 41 per cent increase over 2003 and five times higher than the annual average between 1995 and 2002.