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2018-11-16 09:45:51

Dog owners in an eastern Chinese city are expressing outrage at a new set of guidelines put into effect Thursday cracking down on pooches in public.

On Nov. 8, the Hangzhou government in Zhejiang province announced a temporary “civilized dog-raising” campaign that restricts pet owners from walking dogs in public between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. until December, local media reported. The rules from the city’s urban management committee also ban “large dogs” from public areas at all times, without specifying exact sizes or breeds.

Chen Yu, a pet store employee in Hangzhou, told Sixth Tone that although she sees the rationale behind these rules, they’re not entirely fair to the pets or their owners. She said the new guidelines have created stress and panic among her customers, adding that she herself is now unable to walk her 4-year-old schnauzer three times per day as usual.

“I understand the purpose of the crackdown is to define good behaviors and to reshape Hangzhou’s city image, but these regulations often come along with killing strays and severely punishing owners only after people get injured by unleashed dogs,” she said.

Hangzhou created its new canine campaign in response to a series of violent incidents involving the city’s dog owners, authorities say. In September, after a pregnant woman complained that a French bulldog jumped on her, the animal’s owner attacked the woman. In another incident earlier this month, a woman was assaulted after complaining that a pet owner’s unleashed dog ran after the woman’s two young children in a residential complex.

Hangzhou’s new rules also state that the city will confiscate or kill strays and unregistered dogs, in addition to fining owners of the latter up to 5,000 yuan ($720). Those who raise so-called Chinese rural dogs — a broad category used to refer to canines recognized as indigenous to the mainland — have been told that the mutts are “banned,” though it’s unclear what authorities intend to do with the ones already in the city.

Hangzhou’s canine decree, though temporary, has infuriated both activists and pet owners. Since Thursday, thousands of netizens have commented on a post by the International Olympic Committee on the microblogging platform Weibo, pleading with organizers to cancel the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou over the city’s mistreatment of animals. As anger continued to swell online, social media discussions on the topic were brought to heel. with terms such as “Hangzhou dog-raising” now censored on Weibo.

Some, however, see the local government’s new policies more favorably.

Hangzhou resident Zhou Yunchao supports the campaign. She is among many in the city who fear the sort of unleased dogs reported in recent news stories. On Friday, Zhou said it was a welcome change to walk outside without seeing unleashed dogs, which had previously run freely around her residential complex.

But Zhou doesn’t think the temporary crackdown can ultimately solve the pet problem. “After a short period of time, unregistered dogs will be seen running unleashed everywhere in the city again,” she said, pointing out that urban dog management requires effective, long-term measures.

Hangzhou’s new guidelines are part of a larger national trend of tightening the leash on dog owners to counter complaints over badly behaved canines. Early last year, a city in eastern China’s Shandong province introduced the country’s first “Civilized Dog-Raising Credit Score System” to keep tabs on pooches and their owners.

This month, new pet policies under development by several major cities have also been brought to light. Beijing said last week that it intends to update the capital’s dog management regulations, while Wuhan in central Hubei province announced Wednesday that all dogs must be muzzled in public starting next year, with offending owners to be fined or even added to the country’s “dishonest people list.” Shanghai is currently creating a smartphone app with a “pet map” to help owners register their animals and make vaccination appointments, Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper, reported Thursday.

“I’ve heard so many ridiculous dog management rules. The one that we can’t raise Chinese dogs in China is the most ridiculous,” Zhang Weinan, the owner of a 2-year-old former stray, told Sixth Tone in reference to Hangzhou’s ban on rural dogs. “But I’m at least grateful that we don’t live in Wuhan, as my dog refuses to walk around wearing a muzzle.”

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: Pet owners walk dogs along a river in Changsha, Hunan province, March 31, 2015. VCG)