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China pets face bleak start to Year of the Dog
Updated: 2006-01-27 15:18

Dogs in China face a bleak start to the Year of the Dog as families trawl pet stores for gifts ahead of the Spring Festival, animal rights activists say.

Just weeks after bringing cats and dogs home, many residents realise they are too much like hard work and abandon them on the street.

A vendor sells dogs dressed in Chinese style clothing at a dog market in Tongxian, a suburb of Beijing, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2004. The three-month-old puppies were selling for 1200 Yuan (US$145.00) each. According to state media reports, one in 10 Beijing families keeps a pet - despite high annual registration fees and restrictions on when they can be walked in the streets. [AP Photo]

The phenomenon is expected to be at its worst after the Lunar New Year holiday which begins on January 29, heralding the Year of the Dog, which makes canines an auspicious seasonal gift.

"New year is twice as bad. Pick a year and then pick the animal," said Carol Wolfson, founder and director of Second Chance Animal Aid, a nine-month-old Shanghai organisation that runs an adoption and shelter programme for abandoned pets.

"Pet stores pump them full of antibiotics to make them look cute and then they die a few weeks later. Or else owners just put them out on the street when they've had enough," Wolfson told Reuters.

Abandoned animals are the dark side of the explosion of pet ownership across China in recent years. The national pet population hit nearly 300 million in 2004, up 20 percent from 1999, according to state media.

Raising dogs was banned under the rule of late Chinese leader Mao Zedong as a bourgeois pastime and was only made legal a few years ago once living standards rose with the economy.

While more people have the means to raise pets, many do not have the will to provide long-term care.

Some dogs and cats end up being killed for their fur in barbaric conditions, crammed into cages which are then thrown on to the ground, shattering their bones, according to animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

"With the Summer Olympics in Beijing fast approaching, we hope the Chinese government will take action to restore the damage that the fur industry has done to the country's international reputation," PETA Asia Pacific director Jason Baker said in a statement.

Abandoned dogs and cats fill cages on the second floor of the Shanghai Pet Association, piles of excrement lying on the tiles beneath them.

"People just drop their pets off outside the door. Often the cats are sick with skin disease or have infections," said Xia Jun, 24, who runs the centre.

Since it was founded in December, his organisation has built a network of more than 60 "foster parents" who take of the animals after they are picked up and vets give them check-ups.

Xia said the association aimed to rehouse 500 cats and dogs in 2006, but was braced for the worst in coming weeks.

"We expect the dumping phenomenon to perhaps double over the new year period," Xia said.

Some so-called animal protection organisations are not so altruistic -- many have been found to be selling the cats and dogs they gather to restaurants, with dogmeat widely believed to keep out the cold in winter.

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