A major city in China is cracking down on pet dogs, banning dog walking during the day and prohibiting many larger breeds, after a publicized fight between a dog owner and a bystander.
The new rules in Hangzhou, in eastern China, were adopted after a dog owner was filmed pushing and shoving a woman who had kicked his dog. Before the fight, surveillance footage showed a young boy hiding behind her as the dog circled them without a leash.
The harsh restrictions on dogs — which hark back to anti-pet rules in earlier decades of Communist rule and reflect continuing tensions over the place of dogs in society — officially took effect on Thursday. In addition to a dog walking ban from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., officials vowed to confiscate or kill dogs that were not properly licensed, fining negligent owners 5,000 to 10,000 RMB, or $720 to $1,440. Dogs found outdoors outside of the curfew would also be “detained temporarily” and their owners could be fined.
The city has also banned 34 “vicious” large breeds, including Tibetan mastiffs, German shepherds, Great Danes, Chinese rural dogs and some mixed breeds. A volunteer involved in animal adoptions said this could make it difficult for dog owners who have already rescued large dogs.
Hangzhou’s animal rights volunteers said that they had seen dogs of all sizes being confiscated this week. Thousands have also commented on a post on Weibo, a popular social media platform, from the International Olympic Committee to debate Hangzhou’s fitness to host the 2022 Asian Games in light of its treatment of dogs.
Videos of uniformed city law enforcers beating dogs with metal poles have circulated widely on Chinese social media and chat groups. But the authenticity of the videos could not be verified, as similar crackdowns have occurred in other cities in the past, and it is unclear when the videos were filmed. Before the recent wave of viral videos appeared, a district in Hangzhou released a statement asking the public not to believe “rumors” pertaining to dogs and its law enforcement, adding that they had reported the “malicious spreading” of rumors to the public security agency.
China has a history of using dogs to make aggressive political statements. Dogs were branded as political enemies in the 1940s for revealing the movements of Communist fighters who resisted Japanese colonizers by nightfall. For decades, they were derided as bourgeois house pets that wasted scarce resources. Sometimes, dogs were openly beaten on streets as an act of aggression.
Though many dog restrictions were gradually loosened after China’s economic reforms in the 1980s, some officials and others have remained hostile.
Qin Xiaona, the director of the Capital Animal Welfare Association and a longtime animal rights campaigner, said that a deeply held fear of dogs revealed a society full of insecurity. “There is a lack of empathy for dogs, and also a lack of trust between humans,” she said, calling Hangzhou’s new restrictions “regressive,” “lazy” and “inhumane.”
Pet ownership has become increasingly affordable for the emerging middle class, and animal rights activism is increasingly accepted, especially among younger generations. But some animal rights advocates acknowledge that the deeply rooted fear of dogs may also be aggravated by a lack of discipline on the part of some dog owners. City authorities have often reacted with harsh policies. Dog walking is also banned, for example, in Wenshan, a city in the southwestern province of Yunnan, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Irene Feng, Animal Asia’s director of cat and dog welfare, said that friction between dog owners and fearful city dwellers would dwindle when “civilized dog-owning habits” are practiced, such as walking dogs on leashes and cleaning up after them.
“To manage city dogs, you need to manage their owners well. This is a stance many urban departments can already understand,” she said, saying that she hoped that Hangzhou would lift its restrictions on its dogs as other cities had done.