THEY are often smuggled into China, drugged with sleeping pills and shots of whisky to get them past the border guards. When they hit the market in Beijing, they fetch 10 or more times their price back in Moscow. In some ways, they are probably lucky to have made the long trip by Trans-Siberian train from Russia. At least the food is better in China. But they will have to watch their step: police have orders to kill them on sight. It is, as they say, a dog's life. Like gambling, satellite television and a lot of other things that are fun, having dogs, and cats, has been banned in China for decades. But, like gambling, watching satellite television and many other things which bring pleasure, millions are doing it anyway. Except for police, the military and researchers, dog ownership is banned. Dog squads periodically crack down. During a raid in a suburb of Shenzhen a year ago, a 42-man squad killed 49 pets in one day. But according to the Legal Daily newspaper, 100 million dogs and 200 million cats are being raised across China. It estimates one quarter of all Chinese households raise pets. ''There's no actual law for forbidding dog-raising,'' said Mr Cao Zhijun, manager of the Luofu Gardening and Pets Co, one of about 12 such companies in Beijing. ''But no one says you can.'' Mr Cao said his company began business four years ago with a view to raising dogs for export. Today, however, 90 per cent of his dogs are sold domestically. His company can barely keep up with demand. The dog craze took off about six months ago, when Russians and Chinese began smuggling dogs from Russia. With economic conditions so dire in the former Soviet Union, many dog owners there can no longer afford to feed their pets, and traders are snapping them up at cheap prices. DOG smuggling is illegal, but rampant. A Chinese newspaper reported that one train car from Russia was carrying more than 60 dogs, only three of which were found by the guards. It is common in Beijing this days to see stout Russians selling dogs on street corners. Though interest in pets in China was increasing anyway, ''the Russians gave the Chinese market an impetus'', said Mr Cao. ''The Chinese have a 'keeping up with the Jonses' mentality. If their neighbour gets a dog, they want one, too.'' Among Mr Cao's customers are Chinese movie and sports stars, and even some retired leaders. Actress Liu Xiaoqing reportedly has a Pyrenean mountain dog and a German shepherd. Mr Cao refused to say which Chinese leaders had bought dogs; after all, it was not so long ago that the communists condemned pet-raising as a bourgeois habit - indeed, ''running dog'' was a common term of abuse for the politically incorrect. ''So leaders don't want people to know they now take delight in raising dogs,'' said Mr Cao. Professor Chen Baixi, 62, a veterinarian and member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, attributed the new pet fad to China's rising living standards, and to a one-child family planning policy which leaves couples with a surplus ofmoney, time and energy to dote on pets. The dog craze has now spread all across China. In Nanning, Guangxi province, the dog market brings a daily pilgrimage of customers. There have been several police raids on dog sellers, the China Youth Daily noted. ''But after the raids, people stand under the 'dog buying, selling and raising is forbidden' signs to haggle calmly over prices.'' A dog bought for 12,000 yuan (HK$16,200) in Nanning recently sold for 280,000 yuan in Beijing, the paper said. The Farmers Daily noted with shock that in Chengdu, Sichuan, one shih-tzu sold for 380,000 yuan. Mr Cao said people who bought dogs at that price were being cheated in a market he described as often chaotic. The top prices for his dogs - Pekingese, Pomeranians, German shepherds, Yorkshire terriers, chow chows, and poodles, among others - run to 40,000 yuan. The Legal Daily said that when the dog squads went on a rampage, people simply transferred their pets to the suburbs or the countryside, knowing that eventually the campaign would wind down. As more people raise pets, more shops are opening to cater to them. Chengdu now has more than 300 pet clinics, some owned by the state. Dogs combs, shampoos, collars, belts and food are now appearing on the market. The Farmers Daily reported Chengdu would soon have its first beauty parlour for dogs.