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Opinion: Let the poor keep their pets
( 2003-12-13 00:10) (China Daily)

Should a poor person or family not be allowed to own a dog if security minimum allowances are being provided to him or her?

That is the crux of the issue facing Chinese municipalities, and in the forefront of public debate as city officials grapple with rules and regulations on pets and so-called "pet-raising'' or ownership.

Advocates of keeping the poor pet-free say not another yuan should be conferred on those in need if they keep a pet. A number of city's local civil affairs bureaux -- including Nanjing, Qingdao, Shenyang, Harbin, Yangzhou and Shanghai -- have indicated that applicants who raise dogs will not receive government stipends.

Nanjing, capital of East China's Jiangsu Province, in July forced 90 per cent of pet owners receiving minimum allowances to give up their pet dogs in order to retain the financial help, according to local newspaper Jiangnan Times.

Officials argue that the allowance is to support people with no jobs who cannot manage basic living needs. The money, supporters insist, is not for a family that can afford the luxury of raising a pet. If a family can afford to do that, it means it does not need extra financial aid.

But advocates of the poor say they should be accorded the same rights and privileges as any citizen.

"Why do you take away people's rights to raise a pet?'' said a message on news portal Sina.com's comment page. "It is often a poor person who has more love for the little animals, and who are more in need of the company of pets!''

Indeed, it may be the poorest among us, living as many do in the worst of conditions who have little else to comfort them.

Some said raising a pet does not necessarily cost as much as some wealthy people spend.

"My dog can live happily by just eating some of our leftover food,'' said Wang Fang, a laid-off worker living in the Chaoyang District in Beijing.

According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, about 22 million people in this country are receiving minimum allowances ranging from just a few dozen yuan to a little more than 300 yuan (US$36) per month.

Ministry officials say the average income of a family is the basic standard to decide if minimum allowances should be issued.

A comprehensive investigation of the family's income should be done instead of simply judging by whether there is a dog in the house, they said.

Raising a dog in the Northeast China city of Shenyang, for example, means that an owner pays an application fee of 1,000 yuan (US$120) and a registration fee of 500 yuan (US$60) per year.

With the addition of food and medical expenses, a large part of the government allowance would have to be used to cover a pet's expenses.

Using the government's logic of so-called "means'' testing -- checking out the honesty of a poor person to see if they will admit to owning a pet -- why not check to see if they have indulged in procreation of a child, which costs considerably more.

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