Chinese cities put dogs on tight leash after spate of attacks

  • But clampdown on pet pooches met with howls of protest from owners on social media
  • Animal welfare campaigner says better understanding of law, not more rules, needed
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2018, 7:07pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2018, 9:11pm

Chinese cities are clamping down on pets after a recent spate of dog attacks and an incident last week in Hangzhou, the capital of eastern Zhejiang province, in which a woman was beaten by a dog owner for chasing his unleashed pet away from her frightened child.

Also last week, the city of Wenshan in the southwestern province of Yunnan found itself at the centre of a controversy for banning its residents from walking their dogs on the street between 7am and 10pm each day.

This week, Hangzhou became the first of a number of cities to enforce and revise strict pet keeping policies. The government announced that from Thursday until the end of December, it would “clean up uncivilised dog-keeping behaviour”.

The rules say dogs in Hangzhou can be exercised only between 7pm and 7am and are prohibited from public spaces such as parks, markets or schools. Owners who walk dogs off the leash will face fines of up to 1,000 yuan (US$143), while unlicensed dogs will be impounded and their owners fined up to 10,000 yuan.

More cities are likely to follow Hangzhou’s example by passing new laws and enforcing the rules already on the books. China’s highly vocal internet users rallied behind the woman and demanded stricter measures on pet keeping. But the announcement of the restrictions on pets led to a backlash as dog owners said they thought some measures were too harsh and unreasonable.

“The time limit means our dogs can only live in the dark,” one post on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service, said. “This does not even solve the issue. Uncivilised dog-keeping behaviour can cause injuries no matter what time.”

“There’s only emphasis on punishment, but no policy to protect the rights of dogs,” another user said.

Some of the policies now being enforced by Hangzhou have been in place since 2004, but there has not been enough communication with the public, Hongzi, an official at the Hangzhou Animal Protection Volunteer Group, said.

The measures were outdated and there needed to be more emphasis on teaching the public what acceptable dog keeping behaviour was, she said.

“I think there can be punishment of individuals, but there’s no need to create panic like what’s happening now.”

Since the announcement of the campaign, Hongzi said, some owners had abandoned their dogs because they could not get a licence.

In Lianyungang, eastern Jiangsu province, police said on Sunday that owners should leash their dogs and clean up after them, or face being fined.

In Chengdu, capital of southwest China’s Sichuan province, police said they would clamp down on “uncivilised behaviour” on the streets starting this week.

Chinese city bans dogs from the street for 15 hours a day

In recent months, there has been an increasing number of reports of dog attacks. Without proper regulations or enforcement of the laws, many people let their dogs run wild and do not clean up after them. In September, a spate of dog poisonings was reported in several cities, which officials think was a reaction to dog attacks.

“Every time there’s a dog attack, the government immediately starts a campaign to control pet keeping,” said Jiang Hong, director of Xian-based Red Pomegranate Stray Animal Rescue Centre. “Regulating dog keeping should be a long-term job, there needs to be a lot of communication with the public, so that owners can understand how to manage their dogs and what their responsibilities are,” she said.

Jiang said she believed the policies needed to be more “lenient and logical”, such as giving owners a warning on a first offence instead of impounding their dog straight away.

There also needed to be more communication with the public, she said, adding that many people did not even know where to get a pet licence or how to walk a dog.

“Managing pet keeping behaviour in the city comes down to managing dog owners, not dogs,” she said.