Life in Beijing

China housing estates’ war on unleashed dogs unlikely to resolve rising tensions

Hong Kong expat has never got used to his Beijing housing estate being a playground for scary-looking huskies, and scandal over defective rabies vaccine only adds to nerves about unleashed dogs

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 August, 2018, 12:31pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 August, 2018, 12:57pm

China’s defective rabies vaccine scandal has only further inflamed existing hostility towards dog owners that don’t use a leash when walking their pet.

Getting bitten by a dog on the street has become a life-and-death matter after China’s second largest producer of rabies vaccines, Changsheng Bio-technology, based in the northeastern province of Jilin, was last month found to have produced substandard rabies vaccine.

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Chan Pak-hang from Hong Kong, who has lived in a private housing estate in Daxing, Beijing for three years, says he encounters boisterous golden retrievers and intimidating-looking huskies whenever he leaves his home to go for a walk.

“Unlike dog owners in Hong Kong, 90 per cent of the people I see with dogs here let them roam free. It’s like a playground downstairs, with all the dogs running around,” Chan says. “Dog owners always say their dogs are not aggressive and [that they] will never bite people, but they fail to understand that dogs are animals. They are docile to their owners, but when boisterous kids unwittingly provoke them, they might turn aggressive.”

Recently, a poster was placed at the entrance to the private Dejingyuan housing estate in the city of Changde, in the central Hunan province. Posted by a landlord who lives on the estate, it carried a strongly worded warning to his dog-walking neighbours who let their pets roam free in the estate.

“If you don’t put your dog on a leash when walking it … and if your dog bites my kids, I will kill it,” it read. [If your] dog attacks my kids, I don’t want an apology or compensation … To even it out, I will find a dog and get it to bite you or your kids. I will pay for the medical costs.”

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Such hostility towards dog owners is nothing new in China. Flare-ups about unleashed dogs are common, and sometimes turn violent.

In June, a 57-year-old man from the city of Harbin, in northeast China, was knocked unconscious by a dog owner after he complained that the owner’s unleashed dog scared his three-year-old child.

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In 2016, the owner of a shiba inu – a spitz breed of hunting dog from Japan – attacked a truck driver after his vehicle hit and killed her dog that was running across a road unleashed in Kunming, southwest China. Claiming she had bought the dog for 36,000 yuan (US$5,200), the woman hit the driver on the back, pushed him to the ground and made him kneel before its corpse. The driver eventually called the police.

In the same year, the owner of a poodle from the city of Ningbo, in eastern China, sued a woman after her unleashed dog bit her poodle.

Some housing estates have taken drastic measures to maintain harmony between dog owners and other residents. Recently, managers of a private residential property in the city of Zhengzhou, located in central China, started publicly shaming owners who were not following the rules. They posted photos of owners with untethered dogs at the entrance to the estate. The management told an online portal that they plan to show new culprits every month.

In June, the municipal government in Shenzhen, a Chinese city across the border from Hong Kong, launched a campaign to encourage civilised dog ownership. A government spokesman was quoted saying that letting a dog roam off its leash or urinate indiscriminately breaks city pet ownership rules and leads to unnecessary disputes. The government encouraged members of the public to call a 24-hour hotline to report any uncivilised dog-keeping behaviour they observed.

On August 5, police in the city of Xian, in northwest China, working with housing estate managers, launched a crackdown on the matter, dispatching staff across the city to catch irresponsible dog owners. Repeat offenders will have their pet-keeping licences revoked for five years.

It’s unlikely such measures will bring many wayward dog owners to heel, however. If owners believe their pets wouldn’t hurt a fly, then they won’t see any reason to restrain them in public.