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Dog days of summer - the heat's on

IT'S been a tough three months for city dog lovers and their pooches since Shanghai's one-dog-per-household law went into effect.

Many dog lovers and owners fear that these three months have been a "grace period" and now authorities will really get tough, round up and confiscate unlicensed, "over-quota" and "dangerous" dogs, and lock them up - and then the dogs will be in peril. Ugly rumors are swirling on the Internet.

Authorities have been at pains to reassure dog lovers that dogs won't be outright confiscated from them and that suitable shelters will be found, but details are not clear. Many aspects of implementation and enforcement of the new law were left by lawmakers to animal-control authorities.

Last month Sun Weihua, a police officer supervising canine raising, denied rumors that police are planning mass detention of unlicensed dogs by the end of August.

Instead, he said officers would take a citywide census on the population of home-raised dogs and whether they are licensed. He stressed that unlicensed dogs would not be taken away from their owners immediately.

Before the law went into effect in mid-May, Shanghai had an estimated 800,000 dogs, many of them strays, and only around 140,000 registered dogs.

The law aims to encourage the vaccination and licensing of more dogs by reducing licensing fees from 2,000 yuan (US$310) to 500 yuan inside the Inner Ring Road and from 1,000 yuan to 300 yuan outside. By the end of July around 95,000 dogs were checked, vaccinated, registered and received an implanted information chip.

The law also aims to eliminate 23 breeds of so-called dangerous dogs from the city, at least its center - that's still problem for owners because these big pets, even if registered, vaccinated and sweet-tempered, cannot be legally kept. And they're too big to be hidden indoors; they must be walked.

The law also aims to make it easier for authorities to deal with strays and feral dogs that represent a health problem and potential rabies risk. Last year 2,500 Chinese people died of rabies.

The legislation appears a double-edged sword. On the one hand, lower licensing costs and streamlined procedures are increasing the number of healthy registered dogs.

On the other hand, the one-dog-per-household rule means that families with more than one dog (licensed or unlicensed) would technically have to give one pet up after its license, if any, expires in a year.

To Huihui, a young animal rights activist and volunteer, the law is cruel, forcing her to make a "Sophie's Choice," referring to novel and film in which a woman is forced to choose which of her two children to give up at gunpoint to Nazis and certain death.

Huihui keeps several dogs at home, including some rescued from the street. All are licensed but as licenses expire she may well be forced to choose. Each household also must produced a deed or certificate of ownership or legal occupancy for each animal.

"I am contacting relatives and friends without dogs, hoping they will use their ownership certificates to make my dogs legal," she said.

Tough choice

She asks to borrow ownership documents so she can apply to police to have her dogs registered with other families, although they would still live with her.

Many people have the same problem; it's not uncommon for a household to have a couple of small dogs.

"I will try my best to legally keep all of them, or find them responsible new owners. Either way, it's arduous work and saying goodbye to any of them is painful," said Huihui.

Despite police assurances, people fear a crackdown on unlicensed dogs in public. The new law says detained dogs, including licensed, unlicensed pets and strays, are to be sent to government-designated shelters. But the law does not specify the condition of shelters, condition in which dogs are to be kept - or what will happen to the dogs and whether they will be "euthanized" after a period of time.

Owners are expected to be able to claim licensed pets, as well as unlicensed dogs after paying a fine and handling vaccination and licensing.

A middle-aged woman surnamed Liu is especially worried. For several years, she has run a small shelter for stray dogs and cats in Putuo District.

On a recent afternoon, the woman stared at her tiny shelter, a small area she has leased from a pets and plants market. She cares for dozens of unlicensed dogs and can only supply basics, depending on volunteers to help. As more people learned about her, they quietly left dogs and cats outside her shelter at night, knowing she would find them in the morning.

Liu is especially worried that tougher supervision of unlicensed dogs may mean that her animals are taken away. At a recent animal adoption day held by volunteers, Liu quickly placed two of her pooches with a factory owner in the suburbs.

"In the past, I would most likely refuse to give dogs to a factory owner, they might be used as guard dogs, but time is the first concern and I have to be quick." She said the factory owner promised to license the animals at once and treat them well.

She is now trying urgently to find homes for her animals and may have to close down. "The power of an individual is too small and weak," she said.

A city lawmaker said the government should consider cooperating with and subsidizing qualified volunteers and animal protection groups to shelter strays and unlicensed dogs. Officer Sun was reassuring, sort of.

"Police once used tough methods, including confiscating dogs, to get people to license their pets, but it didn't have achieve a good effect," he said. "Now we would persuade people who fail to license their dogs. We would only consider punishment of persuasion fails twice."

Sun said owner would get three to five days to get a license and retrieve their pets.


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