By the end of 2009, there were around 60 million pet dogs across major Chinese cities. The numbers have been increasing rapidly since then, with pet owners spending an estimated $2 billion a year on animal care.
As of last week, the numbers in one Chinese city will be more strictly controlled. Thanks to regulations passed in Shanghai, May 15 will be the date by which pet lovers can no longer have more than one licensed dog. Although the penalties are yet to be finalized, as well as who will be in charge of enforcement, the controversial ruling has already drawn mixed reactions.
The rules state every dog aged 3 months or older must be regularly vaccinated against rabies and have yearly examinations, otherwise owners face fines of up to 1,000 yuan. There will also be punishments for irresponsible owners that abandon or abuse their pets.
Shanghai's effort has several aims, including curbing animal waste on the streets, dog attacks and other effects pets have on the general well-being of the city and its residents.
Would this be a good idea for Beijing and should other cities follow Shanghai's example?
Many Beijing residents love dogs and increasing numbers are taking them as pets. It's common to see owners taking their cherished animals out for walks, with many having a number of dogs. Of course, there's nothing ostensibly wrong with owning a pet. Everyone surely has a right to their happiness, and if that comes at the price of an animal they have to look after and feed, then so be it.
But there are certainly a few deficiencies in the way that dogs are kept in Beijing that we could do with updating, if not following Shanghai then with a model used in other major international cities. I'm not sure if limiting the number of dogs that people own is a necessity, but there's undeniably justification for some of the other measures.
There's no doubt we have an issue with dog waste beginning to rear its head in some of the residential areas of the capital, and the street cleaners cannot be expected to deal with all of it. Irresponsible owners are allowing their darling creatures to do their business in the middle of the pavement to be left for an unassuming Beijinger to step around or, more often than not when it's dark, into it.
In many cities like London, dog waste is a problem largely consigned to the past. Monetary penalties were introduced for those who did not pick up after their animals and have been strictly enforced, leaving streets a lot cleaner as a result. With the growing number of dogs sharing the paths here, it's perhaps time to introduce something similar, before the problem grows into an inconvenience for everyone.
Residents surely have few arguments with others keeping pets. They can be noisy at times, but no more than the vehicles in the street at all hours. But some responsibility with caring for an animal is needed, especially when it comes to clearing up the mess they leave so that some unfortunate soul doesn't put their foot in it.
The changes in Shanghai may help deal with the problems similar to those that Beijing faces, so it's worth watching closely to see whether it's successful and, if so, how to apply it here.
The author is a British freelance writer based in Beijing.