A HUANG'S days in Beijing may be numbered. Bought three years ago for $1,200 by restaurateur Jiang Zhu, the sleek German shepherd has been doted upon like a member of the family and daily fed with big slabs of meat, cake, and ice cream.
Now, though, Ahuang's pampered life is being threatened by a draft dog-keeping law under consideration by the Beijing People's Congress that is causing canine lovers to growl in the Chinese capital.
Under the proposed law, only small dogs will be allowed, and dog-owners will be required to pay a $700 registration fee, take out dog-bite insurance policies, display a special doorplate to warn visitors, and walk their dogs only between 8 p.m and 6 a.m.
Dog lovers like Mrs. Jiang, who keep dogs as pets and guards, are up in arms. ``We keep him for protection and also as a pet ... Our whole family loves this dog. We treat him as a family member and not as an animal.''
But, since economic reforms have brought a new measure of prosperity, dogs as pets have become a symbol of China's ostentatious nouveau riche. Recently, pet markets have thrived on the streets of Beijing and have become the place to be seen for a well-to-do clientele willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a four-legged friend.
Now, city officials say dog-keeping has gone too far. Among the ideologically hard-line municipal authorities, Beijing, a city of more than 10 million people, can barely handle the flood of poor fortune-seekers from the countryside, let alone a proliferating population of dogs.
According to articles in the official English language People's Daily, the city has more than 200,000 dogs or just about 1 to every 50 residents. That's three times the number in 1986. In the entire country, there are about 100 million dogs or just under 10 percent of China's burgeoning human population, the newspaper says. Canines have become big business in Beijing, fueling a proliferation of pet shops, veterinary hospitals, and even dog massage and beauty parlors.
But dogs are also wreaking havoc, officials say. Rabies is on the upswing, China Daily says, and has caused more than 60,000 deaths in the country and 89 in Beijing alone since 1988.
``I think it's just a way for officials to rip people off and make money,'' says a US teacher whose family brought their golden retriever with them from Washington and can now walk the dog only within the foreigners' compound where they live. ``That's quite a hefty tax. I think we'll have to call a family conference and maybe decide to send her back to live with some relatives.''
Beijing's great dog debate has become the hot topic on phone-in radio and television feature programs, with residents overwhelmingly favoring the new law, according to reports in the Chinese press. Beijing's top leadership of the People's Congress says 86 percent of the more than 1,000 Beijingers writing or phoning the government about the new ordinance support curbs on dog ownership. The public has until Nov. 10 to respond.
``They say that many old people want to keep a dog as a companion,'' says a Beijing businessman. ``But now in China, there are a lot of places where old people can dance, enjoy painting, or do calligraphy. Why do they have to keep a dog?''
``Chinese people don't like cats because they think they are too smart,'' says another resident who doesn't own a dog but would like to in the future. ``But the dog is considered an honest friend.''
Jiang, the restaurateur, says surrendering Ahuang will cause anguish to her family, especially her nine-year-old daughter, and insists the prospect makes her militant. ``I want to send him to a relative in Guangxi Province [in southern China], but I don't know how to send him. I can't take him on the train,'' she said, watching the dog meander around the restaurant. ``If they want to take the dog away, they will have to take me away first.''