China’s dog owners need to take more responsibility

By Zhang Yu Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/10 17:43:39

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

A woman in Chengdu, capital of Southwest China's Sichuan Province, recently learned a hard lesson on the importance of leashing her dog. On her way to the supermarket with her Golden Retriever, the off-leash dog ran toward a child, apparently frightening him. His protective grandfather kicked the dog away. The woman protested grandpa's "abuse" of her beloved canine, and the quarrel quickly escalated - as most disagreements do in China - into a nasty physical brawl resulting in the woman getting beaten up.

But if you think the beating was the horrible part, the reactions from Chinese netizens were particularly vicious and unsympathetic. After the woman posted her experience on Sina Weibo, a clear majority of netizens commented that she "deserved" being beaten up. Others recounted their experience with "irresponsible" dog owners and vented their anger at the woman.

After the post went viral, the woman was forced to write an apology for not leashing her dog, but added that she will sue the man who beat her. Nonetheless, as dog ownership skyrockets across China, leash laws and regulations remain lax and unenforced, resulting in frequent physical and verbal clashes between pet owners and passersby.

Such conflicts could be easily avoided if both sides simply abide by local regulations or the pet policies of private establishments. I checked Chengdu's leash laws, which says that dogs should always be leashed or caged when they're in public. Unfortunately, such regulations are often not obeyed by owners nor enforced by police and security guards.

The history of dog ownership in China is likewise tumultuous. Unlike the West, where the average person has at some point shared a mutually rewarding relationship with a canine, in China cynophobia (a fear of dogs) used to be part of our official ideology. As some writers recalled in their memoirs, during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), owning a pet dog, especially one of a foreign breed, was condemned and banned as a symbol of "bourgeois decadence;" all pet dogs were exterminated during political campaigns.

By the 1980s, pet dogs reentered people's homes; by the new millennium, pet ownership had surged in major Chinese cities among China's emerging middle class. Pets were not only seen as a great companion for a generation of families with only one child, but are also as a symbol of a sought-after lifestyle.

Although the percentage of Chinese households that own a pet, at roughly 12 percent, still lags far behind that of Western countries (68 percent in the US and 46 percent in the UK), it is growing at a rate that has prompted some Chinese cities, including Shanghai, to introduce a one-dog policy, limiting each household to a single pet dog.

Take my neighborhood as an example of just how popular dogs have become. A few years ago, square-dancing grannies used to have sheer dominance over our public square each night after dinner. But in the past year or so, a group of local dog owners who take their pets here to "socialize" every night have increasingly encroached on the grannies' precious territory.

Luckily, everyone gets along pretty well; the dogs are kept on leashes and their owners pick up their poop. But not so elsewhere. The growing presence of dogs in Shanghai's many parks can admittedly be irritating or even dangerous, especially when they are allowed to run loose or when nobody cleans up after their mess.

Last month, six pet dogs in a neighborhood in Harbin, capital of Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, were poisoned to death during their morning walk. Investigations found that the dogs ate tainted sausages that someone left on the neighborhood lawns. Although the perpetrator was never found, many believed it was intentional, as some residents were complaining about early morning dog barking and all the poop left on the sidewalks.

While anyone who cruelly poisons dogs should be condemned and punished, irresponsible dog owners are also indirect accomplices in their deaths. If they had respected the laws and regulations on dog ownership, such tragedies could have been avoided. The same goes for that woman in Chengdu.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.

Posted in: TWOCENTS

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