For Beijingers, a fluffy friend is just a phone call away.
Dog lovers in the capital can now call to make an appointment and go to a special dog shelter to choose one.
Stray and illegal dogs picked up during the campaign to curb irresponsible dog ownership, which has caused rabies, are now in the shelter in Qiliqu Town, Changping District on the north side, about 40 minutes drive from the city's centre.
The 3-hectare shelter operated by the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau was put into operation in 1998.
It has more than 600 stray, abandoned or confiscated dogs, said Huang Zhimin, section chief of the Social Administration General Force of the bureau.
The shelter provides quarantine, treatment and adoption services, Huang said.
With four buildings for large dogs, eight rows of kennels for small ones, a quarantine zone, an isolation zone and an adoption zone, the centre is capable of holding more than 1,000 dogs, Huang said.
Since October, about 200 from the shelter have been adopted by local citizens.
The centre also has a hospital and a dog cafeteria, while professional pet attendants and training experts ensure the dogs are treated well.
"Nutritious food is specially prepared every day, and they are given healthy portions," Huang said.
As well as ensuring that illegal dogs are treated well and are healthy, the centre also serves as a base for adoption.
Qualified citizens are invited to call the centre's hotline for dog adoption, 6973-8604, on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Adoptive owners can obtain all certificates from the police service stations in the shelter. They should have a house and the certificates from the local community.
Deluge of dogs
The city's number of registered dogs rose to 550,523 in 2005, according to Yu Hongyuan, deputy director of the public security bureau.
The bureau has found more than 29,000 unregistered dogs and 1,698 households that have more than one dog and closed 77 illegal dog breeding locations.
Another 36,000 dogs were registered since the campaign was launched in October.
"We want to raise public awareness of raising a dog in a civilized way," Yu said.
Liu Yaqing, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Agriculture Bureau, said they provide free vaccine for registered dogs.
A series of rabies deaths this year has caused a huge public outcry for strengthened dog oversight, culminating in a few mass destructions and confiscations in the country.
Deng Xiaohong, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Health Bureau, said no rabies cases were reported from 1993 to 2004.
But 12 people died of rabies in Beijing from January to November 15 this year, 11 of whom were bitten by dogs from outside Beijing.
Deng attributed the sudden jump of deaths this year to the sharp increase of unvaccinated dogs nationwide and the large migration of people to Beijing.
Deng said that 118,000 people were hospitalized till November 15 this year, a year-on-year increase of 22 per cent. Most of the people bitten were aged 17 and under, and 70 per cent of the people bitten were relatives of the dog owners.
Haidian, Chaoyang and Fengtai districts rank the first three places that dog injuries occur.
Deng said the bureau has 45 rabies clinics that open round the clock for any dog injury emergencies and is planning to set up more. The hotline for dog bites in Beijing is 12320.
Meanwhile, some animal care associations shared a different view about the recent campaign against dog raising, especially a regulation that says large dogs (taller than 35 centimetres) are not allowed in certain restrictive areas, such as the crowded city centre.
"We hope they don't limit by the size of the dog but by the breed," said Jill Robinson, founder and chief executive officer of the Animals Asia Foundation.
Robinson said that the foundation would provide 50,000 muzzles to the public security bureau to reduce the number of dog bites.
"But first, they have to grant amnesty to these dogs," she said.
Tang Yunli, deputy director of the Social Administration General Force of the bureau, said dogs that are too large to be adopted will be sent to units that need guard dogs or kept in the shelter until they die.
Dying dogs will be euthanized, Tang said.
Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia regional director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said she hoped the Beijing municipal government will revise the regulation.
"We hope to focus on raising the quality of dog owners, not simply taking the dogs away," she said.
"Tough measures should be taken against the illegal dog breeding locations and individuals who profit from dog selling."
Establishing shelters is just part of the national campaign to promote more civilized dog ownership.
More Chinese are keeping pets as the standard of living improves, but the lack of enforceable dog ownership regulations and the negligence of dog owners have led to a sharp rise in dog-related injuries, the Ministry of Health said.
Rabies has become the biggest killer among the 23 most infectious diseases, including AIDS and hepatitis B, for six straight months till November in China, the ministry said in a report issued yesterday.
In late October, Beijing began enforcing its dog ownership regulations, aimed at registering all domestic dogs and ensuring their inoculation. As part of the campaign, police also made house calls to establish the dogs' registration and confiscate unregistered animals.
The public security bureau has also strengthened the implementation of the dog-control measures targeting such prominent problems as keeping vicious or unlicensed dogs and one household owning more than one dog.
Any dog owners who no longer want to keep their pets may drop them off at the local police station. According to a recent briefing by the city's public security bureau, measures have worked well enough that the city has now asked residential commissions to take over dog ownership regulation.
Several such commissions have been set up by residents to regulate dog ownership through peer education, according to the bureau.
"Instead of forcible confiscation of the illegal dogs, now volunteers who raise their dogs in a civilized way are encouraged to influence those living around them and achieve a nice living environment for all residents," the Beijing News quoted a municipal public security bureau official whom it did not name as saying.
Pet rules across China
This model of peer education has also been adopted in Shanghai.
In the Ruinan Xinyuan residential area there, residents have initiated campaigns to promote a civilized way of dog-raising.
The measures proposed include cleaning dog waste on the streets, getting rabies shots for the dogs, training dogs and not bringing them to public areas.
In addition, about 65,000 of Shanghai's 500,000 dogs have also been implanted with digital chips, which will also prevent the spread of rabies, according to the municipal public security bureau. The chips contain an ID number that can be used to access information including the dog's breed, sex, colour, owner's address and a photo.
Beijing and Harbin also consider chip implantation programmes.
Wei Haitao, head of Beijing's veterinarians' association, said the chips, implanted in each dog's ear, neck or thigh, will contain the pet's picture, name, breed, registration information and inoculation record, plus the name, address and phone number of its owner.
Efforts to curb dog-related diseases have also been staged in South China's Guangdong Province.
The health bureau in Guangzhou, Guangdong's capital, have encouraged owners of both registered and unregistered dogs to vaccinate them by offering subsidies.
Because of high registration and management fees (as high as 16,000 yuan, or US$2,044), only 1,000 dogs of Guangzhou's 50,000 are registered, according to the local newspaper New Express.
The city also planned to give an electronic ID collar to every dog in order to track its health information, said Chen Zhong, dean of the city's Animal Disease Prevention Institute.
Earlier in September, the city has ordered the killing of all the rabies-carrying dogs.
Nationwide, the campaigns targetting illegal dogs have won praise from the public. Some people emphasize that the fundamental solution to dog-related diseases lies in raising the awareness of all owners.
"Irresponsible dog-raising has not only disturbed neighbourhoods, but also neglected the rights of the pets," said Yang Qing, a volunteer of a dog protection association in Beijing. "Only when every pet-owner has a higher awareness of pet protection can the problem be solved fundamentally."
Developed countries such as the United Kingdom assess the income and family circumstances of its citizens before allowing them to raise a pet, Yang observed.
Yang also suggested that if there were punishments for those who irresponsibly desert their pets, those ugly actions would be controlled.
Source: China Daily