Animal activists in Zhengzhou, Henan province, are racing against time to rescue pet dogs awaiting slaughter in wet market butcheries after their owners abandoned them because of new pet ownership regulations.
It was not clear how many dogs had been abandoned since the rule came into force on October 1 but Ye Hong, director of the Zhengzhou Pet Health Protection Association, said there had been a jump in the number of strays in the city.
Acting on a tip-off from distressed shoppers, Ms Ye said association members had uncovered a cartful of blood-soaked dog pelts at Gaozhai vegetable wholesale market.
Ms Ye, who was at the Qingfeng Street market yesterday trying to talk butchers out of killing pet dogs, said the meat was being sold in at least seven markets in the city.
The new regulations limit a household to one dog, impose a 600-yuan charge on dog registration and a further 200 yuan a year to renew an animal's licence.
Many dog owners have abandoned their pets this month and some animals are ending up in wet markets.
Along with many other mainland cities, Zhengzhou introduced new pet ownership laws after many dog owners ignored previous rules that mandated a 3,000-yuan dog licence fee. Only about 20 per cent of Zhengzhou's 40,000-odd dogs were licensed before October 1.
Violent protests have erupted in many cities over rises in licence fees, and the brutal confiscation and killing of unlicensed and stray dogs.
A crackdown on unlicensed pet dogs in Beijing late last year attracted international attention after distressed pet owners wrote to the International Olympic Committee asking it to speak out in the same way that it did when authorities in Athens culled stray dogs in the lead-up to the 2004 Olympics.
Ms Ye said she had seen two cages, each crammed with about four or five dogs, at the Gaozhai market on Thursday, but when she went back a day later the dogs were gone.
She said association members had tried to buy the dogs to prevent them from being slaughtered but unscrupulous butchers kept raising the price.
The two dogs she bought were so distressed that one refused to eat for two days and the other barked hysterically when approached.
Dog meat is a traditional winter delicacy on the mainland.
Ms Ye said she hoped the government would step in to put an end to the cruelty.
The Zhengzhou Civil Affairs Bureau, which drafted the pet ownership regulation, was not available for comment yesterday.
Mang Ping , an animal welfare activist, said pet ownership regulations in Zhengzhou and other parts of the mainland were designed to rein in the number of pets, 'but failed to take into account some ethical norms related to animal rights protection'.
'If such policies do little to address ethical concerns, they cannot prevent the abandonment and culling of pets,' Ms Mang said.
Among other issues, Ms Mang said the large industry breeding dogs for meat was one area the government should look into.
She said many dog owners on the mainland showed little responsibility for their pets - they did not take basic care of the animals or owned too many
But governments had to change the way they regulated dog ownership 'by encouraging adoption instead of forcing abandonment', Ms Mang said.