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Managing Man's Best Friend

Many people in urban areas are keeping pet dogs in China nowadays, but management of all those animals has become a major headache for local governments. Although 24 cities now have regulations governing the keeping of pets, many conflicts still arise between dog owners, other citizens, the government and the dogs.


Most existing regulations are simple statements of restrictions on location, breed, number of animals permitted and so forth. Vaccinations are required, and so are very hefty initial registration and annual renewal fees.


First-year registration costs vary from place to place, ranging from a few thousand yuan to as much as 10,000 yuan (US$1,200) in some cities. Annual renewal fees are usually somewhat lower, but hardly inexpensive.


The government initially hoped the high costs would deter most citizens from keeping dogs. However, in most places people simply failed to register their animals, gambling that they would not get caught.


In Guiyang, the capital of southwest China's Guizhou Province, the local People's Congress recently drew up the city's first dog ownership regulation. Its writers sought public opinion when writing the draft and incorporated citizens' suggestions.


The focus of Guiyang's regulation is on self-disciplined, responsible pet ownership. People are required to have their dogs vaccinated against rabies and register them, but there are no initial license fees or annual renewal charges. The only other regular cost is a cleanup fee.


Unlike most other cities, there are no restrictions on the breed, size or number of dogs kept: only vicious dogs are prohibited.


Citizens who wish to keep a dog must, after participating in democratic discussions, sign an agreement to care properly for the animal. If the dog harms people or the environment, the owner may be subject to heavy penalties, and unlicensed dogs may be seized.


Yang Houmei, director of the Commission for Legal Affairs of the Guiyang People's Congress, says that when they wrote the first draft, they modeled their regulation on those of other cities. But when they asked for feedback from the public, many people were critical: the People's Congress received more than 400 telephone calls and hundreds of letters within 10 days.


Many residents said that a sound management system, rather than severe restriction, was the solution. If requirements are excessively strict, they pointed out, people simply will not register their dogs.


But since people see their dogs as their friends, they want to treat them well. By showing them how to be responsible pet owners and protecting their rights, the government could minimize the hazards of keeping dogs and maximize compliance. This, says Yang, is human-centered management.


Many foreign countries with long traditions of animal control employ this type of human-centered management. Laws are designed to protect the dogs and their owners as much as other citizens and the environment. Fees are usually kept low, but violations of pet ordinances subject the owner to fairly severe penalties.


People enjoy keeping pets and for many, their dogs are beloved family members. Since it seems that canine companions are here to stay, China needs sound control and management systems. Guiyang has set a good example for other cities throughout the nation.


(China.org.cn by Wang Sining, December 31, 2004)

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