The Shanghai government has stirred up controversy with a proposal to cull stray dogs that are not claimed within 30 days.
The plan, part of draft revisions to the city's regulations on dog ownership, prompted heated debate during public consultation sessions on Monday, according to local media, and the discussion has continued in online forums.
The municipal government says tougher regulations and a cull are necessary to counter the 140,000 dog attacks Shanghai police dealt with last year, a big jump from the average of 100,000 each year since 2006.
But strays have found vocal support from the online community, with many animal lovers branding the proposals 'inhumane' and saying the dogs have a right to live.
Dog supporters in a discussion on the Xinmin Evening News' website outnumbered those in favour of the cull 2-1 by last night.
'If we want to cut down on the spread of rabies, I hope we can do it in a civilised and educated fashion,' one poster wrote. 'We should be reducing the cost of dog licences and giving easier access to inoculations ... not simply relying on culls.'
In a poll on the Sina.com news site, just under 58 per cent of nearly 19,000 respondents were opposed to putting strays down.
The debate adds weight to animal rights activists' calls to speed up the passing of the first national law against animal cruelty.
Shanghai's proposals come just under four months after a draft national bill on animal rights was submitted to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.
The wide-reaching draft legislation seeks to outlaw the use of animals in performances - a popular attraction at the mainland's zoos and safari parks. In the interim, however, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a regulation at the end of October requiring all animal performances at zoos and animal parks to end by January 31.
Living conditions are notoriously grim at Shanghai's zoo, which includes, among other things, a collection of undernourished-looking pedigree breeds of dogs.
However, there are signs awareness of animal rights is gathering momentum on the mainland.
Last month, there was outrage over 'crush fetishist' videos that were distributed online showing young women squashing rabbits and kittens to death under plates of glass.
Dog ownership - frowned upon during the early communist era - has become increasingly popular in the mainland's affluent cities in recent years.
There are about 160,000 licensed dogs in Shanghai, but estimates say there are 600,000 more that are unregistered.
Shanghai's draft regulations seek to reduce the cost of dog licences but, at the same time, limit dog ownership to one per household - another aspect of the plan that has proved controversial.