HONG KONG – In a southwest corner of China, walking a dog could potentially result in the animal being killed by authorities.
After receiving complaints about dogs biting children in Weixin County, Yunnan Province, officials said they would ban dog walking and introduce a harsh three-strike penal system.
The first strike would be a warning for pet owners who disregard the ban. Caught a second time, they would be fined. In a third offense, their dogs would be confiscated and killed under the new rules, apparently regardless of the dogs’ behavior. The ban is due to come into force on Friday.
The sentences are part of a regional effort to “correct uncivilized dog ownership in urban areas,” according to a joint notice issued last Friday by several departments in Weixin County. “The residents have to keep dogs tied up or in a pen. Dogs should not disturb the normal order of society or interfere with the daily life of others. “
When the notice circulated on Chinese social media, it sparked outrage and heated debates across the country, angered animal lovers, and garnered thousands of comments and 100 million views on Weibo, a microblogging platform.
Many called the new regulations cruel and extreme.
“Why on earth should they be killed?” A user named Xuanji Yuheng Abilene wrote on Monday. “What did the dogs do wrong?” She added that while she advocated tougher penalties for irresponsible dog owners, she protested the idea that the animals could not walk in public at all.
Others said that specific rules for walking dogs – such as keeping pets and raising pets – would be far more appropriate and effective.
“This is an unscientific and lazy way of dealing with it,” wrote one user who goes by the name of “An Invisible Person.”
Some people on the internet spoke out in favor of the rules, saying that society has too often placed animal rights above human rights.
There are around 5.5 million dogs in China, according to the 2019 White Paper on China’s Pet Industry. Animal rights activists said fear and aversion to dogs could be compounded by some owners who fail to keep their pets on leashes or blow their nose. Serious injuries and deaths result from dog bites and scratches, and China has reported several hundred deaths annually from rabies, a virus that is commonly transmitted through dog saliva.
Dogs have become popular again in China over the past 30 years. Dog restrictions go back decades.
In the 1940s, barking dogs were accused of exposing the movements of communist fighters who opposed the Japanese occupiers during World War II and were branded as political enemies of the people. For decades, they were ridiculed as bourgeois pets that wasted scarce resources.
Dogs were banned in Beijing in the 1980s. After China’s economic reforms, restrictions gradually eased and pet ownership became increasingly popular among the emerging middle class, and industries such as grooming services have emerged in recent years. As China got richer, many people began to acquire expensive breeds and openly took pride in taking their pets for walks.
Amid the dog boom, local governments have introduced property laws. Some major cities now have restrictions on pet ownership, including rules that govern their size, breed, and time of day. Dogs larger than 14 inches are prohibited in Beijing.
As recently as 2014, a publication in People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, denounced dogs as an imported, indulgent trend from the West and a plague of “social peace and harmony.” It was said that the animal droppings were like “land mines” on China’s roads.
Weixin is not the only county that prohibits dog walking or other restrictions on dog ownership. Hangzhou, a large city in eastern China, introduced a daytime walking ban in 2018. Large dogs, considered aggressive breeds by some people, such as Rottweilers and German Shepherds, are banned in Beijing and Shanghai.
However, the internet backlash to Weixin’s new policies, which appear to go further than other jurisdictions, has led officials to consider re-examining the dog-walking ban and the impending death penalty, according to local news reports.
The county public safety bureau declined further comments and other departments could not be reached. When a representative from the Weixin Ministry of Housing, who was reviewing the regulations, was reached by phone on Wednesday, he said they should still come into effect.