Why China has a 'one dog policy'

Nothing goes unregulated in China. Even China’s ‘one child policy’ has a little known canine equivalent: Only one dog per household in cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

Alexander F. Yuan/AP
Dogs wonder around while their owners check marble bracelets at a market in Beijing, China, April 2, 2013.

Western human rights activists have never made much of a fuss about it, but China’s “one child policy” has a little known canine equivalent.

The “one dog policy” means what it says. In cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, each household is allowed only one canis lupus familiaris.  Nor are urban pet lovers allowed just any kind of dog.

“Vicious” dogs are outlawed. But so is every other dog that is likely to stand more than 14 inches high when it is fully grown.

That means no Rottweilers, St. Bernards or Great Danes, of course. But it also rules out keeping a Dalmatian, a Bloodhound, or a Chow.

Officials say the law is a public health measure, aimed at protecting citizens from strays. More people die of rabies in China than anywhere else in the world save India, they point out.

This being China, nothing goes unregulated. (Though this being China, the regulations are by no means always enforced: The number of outsized Tibetan Mastiffs you see being paraded around town as status symbols is testimony to that.) So each dog must, like his or her owner, have a “residence permit.”

The plastic permits look very like Chinese ID cards, with the dog’s photo, name, sex, and type printed on it. The reverse of a Beijing resident-dog-license is decorated with – what else? – a Pekinese. And it doesn’t come cheap: $160 the first year and $80 a year after that.

Failure to register your dog risks an even costlier punishment – an $800 fine.

Keeping dogs as pets is not really a Chinese tradition, though in the countryside farmers may keep guard dogs or hunting dogs. In fact, pooches are as often eaten than pampered in this part of the world, despite the best efforts of nascent animal rights groups.

Last week, for example, residents of Yulin in the southern province of Guangxi, got through about 10,000 dogs at their annual summer solstice dog meat festival, according to activists. Most of them were served in a traditional hotpot with lychees and grain liquor.

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