HONG KONG — In a southwestern corner of China, walking a dog can potentially get the animal killed by the authorities.
After receiving complaints of dogs biting children in Weixin County in Yunnan Province, officials have said they would ban dog walking and put in place a harsh three-strike penalty system.
For pet owners who flouted the ban the first strike would be a warning. Caught a second time, they would be fined. For a third offense, their dogs would be seized and killed, according to the new rules, and apparently regardless of the dogs’ behavior. The ban is set to take effect on Friday.
The penalties are part of a regional effort to “correct uncivilized dog ownership in urban areas,” according to a joint notice issued last Friday by several Weixin County departments. “Residents must keep dogs tied up or in a pen. Dogs should not disrupt the normal order of the society or interfere with the daily life of others.”
When the notice began circulating on Chinese social media, it set off howls of outrage and fierce debate across the country, angering animal lovers and racking up thousands of comments and 100 million views on Weibo, a microblogging platform.
Many called the new regulations cruel and extreme.
“Why on earth should they be killed?” a user going by the name of Xuanji Yuheng Abilene wrote on Monday. “What did the dogs do wrong?” She added that even though she supported stricter punishments for irresponsible dog owners, she objected to the idea that the animals could not be walked in public at all.
Others said that specific rules on dog walking — such as keeping pets leashed and picking up after them — would be far more appropriate and effective.
“This is an unscientific and lazy way of dealing with it,” wrote one user, who goes by the name An Invisible Person.
A few people online voiced support for the regulations, saying that society has too often placed animal rights over human rights.
There are roughly 5.5 million pet dogs in China, according to the 2019 White Paper on China’s Pet Industry. Animal rights advocates said that fear and dislike of dogs may be aggravated by some owners who neglect to leash or muzzle their pets. Serious injuries and deaths have resulted from dog bites and scratches, and China has reported a few hundred deaths annually from rabies, a virus often transmitted through the saliva of dogs.
Pet dogs have come back into favor in China over the past 30 years. Dog restrictions date back decades.
In the 1940s, barking dogs were blamed for revealing the movements of Communist fighters who resisted Japanese occupiers during World War II and were branded political enemies of the people. For decades, they were ridiculed as bourgeois house pets that wasted scarce resources.
Dogs were banned in Beijing through the 1980s. Restrictions were gradually loosened after China’s economic reforms, and pet ownership became increasingly popular among the emerging middle class, with industries such as grooming services popping up in recent years. As China grew wealthier, many people began acquiring expensive breeds, taking overt pride in walking their pets.
Amid the boom in pet dogs, local governments have put in place ownership regulations. Several major cities now have restrictions on pet ownership, including rules that govern their size, breed and at what time of day they can be walked. In Beijing, dogs taller than 14 inches are banned.
As recently as 2014, an op-ed in People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official newspaper, denounced pet dogs as a self-indulgent trend imported from the West and a blight on “social peace and harmony.” It said that the animals’ droppings were like “land mines” on China’s streets.
Weixin is not the only county to ban dog walking or place other restrictions on dog ownership. Hangzhou, a large city in eastern China, introduced a daytime dog-walking ban in 2018. Large dogs considered by some people as aggressive breeds, such as Rottweilers and German shepherds, are banned in Beijing and Shanghai.
But the internet backlash over Weixin’s new policy, which appears to go further than other jurisdictions, has prompted officials to say they may consider re-examining the ban on dog walking and the threatened death penalty, according to local news reports.
The county’s public security office declined further comment, and other departments could not be reached. But when reached by telephone on Wednesday, a representative of Weixin’s Ministry of Housing, who verified the regulations, said officials would begin counting the number of dogs in each household on Friday and the rules were still set to go into effect.