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China Enforces New Laws Limiting Dog Ownership

2006 is China's Year of the Dog, but in Beijing, man's best friend is being forced into hiding. Authorities have started to enforce dog ownership laws, restricting households to just one dog, which must also be smaller than 35 centimeters tall. Beijing is estimated to be home to at least one million dogs, but only a fraction are registered or vaccinated - this is what authorities say is the cause of the city's rabies problem.

Some Beijing dog owners have taken their pets into hiding. The crackdown on large and unregistered dogs has many loving owners keeping their pets indoors, out of sight of prying neighbors and police.

Angela Zheng is project coordinator for International Fund for Animal Welfare, a prominent animal rights lobbying group in Beijing. She says the harsh enforcement of the laws has really impacted the lives of city dog owners.

"It caused a very serious mental pressure on them. Many dog owners hold a respected role in the community, are the backbone of society. If they were to bring their unhappiness out into the open, it would have a great affect on the community. The laws are creating an inharmonious element within society," she says.

Authorities say the crackdown is an attempt to curb the growing number of rabies deaths. Chinese state media report some 1,700 people died from rabies between January and August of 2006. That's almost a 30 percent increase over the previous year, making it China's most deadly infectious disease. But it's the crackdown on large dogs that has most dog owners upset, and wondering why they have been singled out by the new law.

Li Shen has taken her golden retriever Li Tiao Tiao to her art studio on the outskirts of the city for safety. She says the laws are forcing her to act like a criminal, and she has no means to lobby the lawmakers for change.

"There is anger in my heart, I don't know how to express it. I cannot destroy things, I cannot protest, but I really feel angry, it is so unreasonable," she said.

Chinese authorities might have thought their anti-rabies precautions would gain public support, for curbing a disease that is claiming so many victims. But many Chinese feel persecuted by the laws. It may be the Year of the Dog, but many dogs and their owners are feeling less than celebrated.