Guo Huiying plays with her dogs Snow (R) and Xixi (L) at her apartment in Shanghai, China, May 13, 2011
Guo Huiying plays with her dogs Snow (R) and Xixi (L) at her apartment in Shanghai, China, May 13, 2011

China's largest city is about to embark on a massive crackdown to control the number of dogs.

Starting Sunday, officials in Shanghai will start enforcing a new one dog per family policy, while also instituting a series of lower fees and higher fines for pet owners.

Officials in Shanghai say the new policy is meant to help them get control of a rapidly growing dog population that has been linked to outbreaks of rabies.

Municipal officials say there are about 800,000 dogs living in the city with a human population of 23 million but that only about 140,000 of the dogs are registered.  Some Shanghai residents complain that many dog owners abandon their pets and that they now face roaming bands of dogs in the streets.

Chinese state media says since 2006, Shanghai has recorded at least 100,000 dog attacks each year.  Officials also say the number of rabies cases has also been growing.

Under Shanghai's new policy, families that already own more than one dog will be allowed to keep them as long as they register the pets before the new law takes effect.

The new rules aim to encourage dog owners to register them with the city, in part by slashing registration fees from about $300 a year to less than $100.

The rules also make getting dogs vaccinated for rabies cheaper, but put heavy fines on owners who fail to get the vaccinations, clean up after their dogs, or abuse or abandon them.

Shanghai is not the only major Chinese city to adopt a one dog per family policy.  Similar rules are already in effect in Beijing and Guangzhou.

Some dog owners in Shanghai have said the new policy is reminiscent of China's one child per family policy.  Others say the rule is needed to improve health and safety.

The issue of animal rights is also gaining more awareness.

Last month Chinese state media reported animal lovers in eastern Beijing blocked a highway for hours to rescue hundreds of dogs that were being trucked to restaurants leading to a 5-hour standoff.  It ended when an animal-protection group bought the dogs for about $17,000.

Many of the dogs had been wearing collars and tags, indicating they had been stolen from their owners.

The consumption of dog and cat meat remains widespread in China, despite the animals' growing popularity as pets.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.