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Mastiff attacks spark debate on urban dogs

By Zheng Xin | Xinhua | Updated: 2013-06-28 21:10

The death of a 6-year-old girl from a dog bite on the neck has set off another national debate about dogs, especially large breeds living in densely populated areas.

The girl from Dalian, Liaoning province, was bitten by a Tibetan mastiff while shopping with her mother on June 27. The injury was so serious that the girl died soon after being sent to a hospital.

On June 3, an 8-year-old girl in Yuncheng, Shanxi province, was bitten by another dog of this breed. The girl struggled for about one minute but soon stopped moving.

A passing villager drove his electric bike onto the dog, trying to scare it away but failed. He then used a stick to hit the dog on the head until the dog ran away.

The girl is still hospitalized.

The two cases have aroused heated debate and discussion on urban dog management.

The Beijing Public Security Bureau started a citywide crackdown on large and dangerous dogs on June 2, in an attempt to avoid attacks on people and diseases from the animals.

"Dogs have animal instincts and may show them from time to time, like barking loudly or even biting people, when threatened, scared or feeling their owner is at risk," said Feng Liyuan, a 46-year-old resident of Chaoyang district in Beijing.

"Some dogs are even trained to be vicious to guard the house. Children and the aged may easily fall victim" to such dogs, Feng said.

Dog attacks are traumatic and can be fatal, she said.

"In Beijing, especially the downtown area, it is already too densely populated to raise big dogs," she said.

Under the Beijing crackdown, dogs of 35 cm in height or taller or those of the 41 breeds identified as violent, including bulldogs and collies, will be banned in certain areas, including six key regions (Dongcheng, Xicheng, Chaoyang, Haidian, Fengtai and Shijingshan districts), as well as some rural regions that are densely populated.

People who break the rules will face a fine of 5,000 yuan ($815), while organizations keeping dogs illegally will be fined 10,000 yuan, according to the Beijing public security bureau.

The crackdown threw many residents who own dogs into a panic.

Feng Jun, a 31-year-old bank clerk living in Chaoyang district, only takes out his Labrador Retriever, much taller than average dogs, late at night for some exercise and nature's call. Feng is worried that his dog will be taken away by the police during the day.

"The dog, despite its size, is mild-tempered and will never hurt people. But now that the police are seizing big dogs all over the city, I can do nothing but hide it inside the apartment during the day and let it out for a while late at night," Feng said.

However, Mary Peng, co-founder of the International Center for Veterinary Services, China's first foreign-owned animal hospital, said keeping dogs inside is no solution and will harm the dogs.

"It's misleading that the government judges whether a dog is harmful according to its size," she said. "This is so wrong."

Some dog owners are simply sending their dogs to relatives living in the suburbs to avoid being caught during the crackdown.

Liu Tan, a 26-year-old resident of Dongcheng district, has sent her Golden Retriever to a friend living in Fangshan district, where big dogs are allowed.

Liu said that past crackdowns were not as strict.

"Some of my friends with smaller legally licensed dogs are also panicked, worrying their dogs would be taken away," she said.

According to Peng, the regulations enforced at the moment have not been well thought out.

If someone has two apartments in the capital, one downtown and the other in the suburbs, would a dog, registered legally in the suburbs, become illegal all of a sudden when taken downtown to see a doctor?

"This simply makes no sense," she said.

It's like depriving licensed large dogs of the right to go to populated areas with better pet medical services, she said.

Peng also said there has been a longstanding misconception that the size of a dog is in accordance with the potential danger it might pose to human beings.

Wang Bin, director of veterinary management at the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Agriculture, said Beijing has been looking at dog regulations that are in effect in foreign countries.

However, officials are a long way from updating the list of banned dog breeds and setting up more specific regulations targeting dog owners.

The number of registered dogs in Beijing reached 1 million in 2012, and the number of unregistered dogs is at least as high, said Peng.

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