Video: In China, it's one couple, one dog

By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 12/17/2006 8:56:44 PM ET 2006-12-18T01:56:44

In Chinese culture, this may be the so-called "Year of the Dog," but it's not a good time to be one in Beijing — where a new rabies crackdown is forcing people to hide pets from the dog catcher and go underground — literally.

"Now I have to walk them in the garage," says a woman named Elaine as she walks her dogs. "I really feel like a criminal here."

Technically she is. According to a newly-enforced law, the Chinese can have only one dog per household. Period.

But also banned, any dog taller than 14 inches, which includes J.J. the cocker spaniel.

J.J.'s owner Flora Weng says the presumption her dog is more likely to get rabies and attack is ridiculous. Still.

"I worry about my neighbor who doesn't like dogs will report my dog and they will take my dog away," she says.

And possibly euthanize it. 

But China's government says it has little choice. Rabies deaths are up. More than 300 people died in September alone, in this country where only three percent of dogs are vaccinated.

"Having a pet in China is a relatively new phenomenon," says Beijing veterinarian Dr. Angela Krautkramer.

So many novice pet owners are just learning that pet vaccinations are necessary.

"Freaking out would be an understatement," says Mary Peng with International Vet Services.

Zhang Na defended her beloved pet when the dog catcher showed up.

"I had [a] fight with them and then they dragged me to the police station," she says.

A protest was organized amid rumors 50,000 dogs were rounded up and executed, something the government denies.

Fear is prompting thousands to give their dogs to good samaritans in the countryside, where kennels are legal.

Pet lovers in China face a tough choice: Either move from the city now, or stay on the run forever.

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