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Canine crackdown: Chinese officials keep dogs and owners on short leash

Dogs in China have never had it easy. But owners say it's particularly tough in tightly policed Beijing. To burnish its bid for the 2008 Olympics, the city intensified checks for clandestine canines.

Beijing is, at first glance, dog-free. But head underground, and it's a different story. Puppies are sold in underpasses by illegal street vendors who hide them inside their jackets and sell them for as little as $12.

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Only in the early morning and after 8 p.m. does the city allow owners to walk legally registered dogs. Unlicensed dogs can be seized at any time.

Because licenses are prohibitively expensive for most residents, many dog owners, when caught, simply abandon their confiscated pooches, and then buy another for a fraction of the cost of registering.

Dog ownership was considered bourgeois by Mao Zedong's communist revolutionaries and discouraged after they seized power in 1949.

Ownership was tolerated after Mao died in 1976, but Beijing imposed tight restrictions in the 1990s under then-Mayor Chen Xitong.

Large dogs are banned, although officials don't define how big is too big. Registering a small dog costs $600, about half the average annual wage in Beijing, and another $240 each year.

But dog ownership is growing among well-heeled Beijingers, perhaps in part because couples are allowed just one child. Parents tend to indulge their "little emperors," and older couples look to dogs for company after their only child leaves home.

With nearly 14 million people, Beijing now has at least 100,000 dogs, the official newspaper China Daily said. Police won't comment on crackdowns, but defend the city's dog laws as necessary to "protect the health and safety of the people and preserve public order and the urban environment."

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(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor