Strict laws that make it prohibitively expensive for many Beijing residents to keep a pet dog are being so flagrantly ignored that authorities have decided to relax them, an official said yesterday. Under the current law, a dog owner in Beijing must pay 5,000 yuan (HK$4,650) to register their pet and 2,000 yuan per year after that. The fees were intended to discourage most people from keeping pets. When the law was introduced in 1995, keeping a pet dog was officially described as an 'inappropriate lifestyle'. But even with the exorbitant cost of licensing a dog, more than 140,000 Beijing residents had registered one by the end of last year. And officials estimate there are probably 10 times as many unregistered dogs in the city. The revised law recognises that many people want to be legal pet owners but do not register their animals because of the cost. Registration would be reduced to 2,000 yuan and the annual fee to 1,000 yuan. Senior citizens would pay half that and registering pets would be free for the disabled. The emphasis of the law will also be shifted from a 'strict limitation on raising dogs' to 'tough management of pet-owner behaviour'. 'The new rules will not only lower the fees but focus on how the owner's treat their animals,' said Zheng Gang, a member of the rule-revising committee. He said the proposed changes would be discussed tomorrow, and that the government wanted to liberalise the situation to avoid a system where only the rich enjoyed pets. 'But as more people keep pets we have to focus on their responsibilities and ensure there is a good atmosphere between dog owners and non-dog owners,' he said. If the new rule is introduced, new pet-owners will have to sign a guarantee that they will not abuse or abandon their pets. They will also have to guarantee that they will always use a 'pooper-scooper' to clean up after their pets. There is often animosity between pet-owners and people who do not like animals in Beijing. This came to a head during the spread of Sars when mobs killed cats and dogs in their neighbourhoods, believing they carried the Sars virus.