At least 200 protesters lined a chilly Beijing street on Saturday to denounce a government crackdown on pet dogs that has the city’s usually passive citizens crying murder.
“Arbitrary slaughter is disgraceful,” read one sign held up by the demonstrators who gathered in front of the city zoo.
“Legislate to protect our pets,” they yelled.
The protesters, many holding up toy fluffy dogs, were decrying government moves to restrict the number of pooches by enforcing a 35-centimeter height limit on dogs and confiscating and culling oversized ones, said one of the organizers, who asked to be known only by her surname, Wu.
For her and others the struggle against the pooch purge has become a struggle in miniature against arbitrary power and Chinese people’s powerlessness before faceless officialdom.
“Raising a dog is a right, not a privilege,” said Wu, who furtively keeps five dogs and runs a pet store. “But now our rights are under attack and we can only take out our dogs in the dead of night.”
She said 18 protesters were detained and released only after organizers agreed to disperse the rally.
Protests are rare in the national capital, and Wu said the organizers did not obtain official approval. Beijing authorities have been vigilant against any assemblies since 1989 when pro-democracy demonstrations ended in a bloody army crackdown.
A few years ago, officials relaxed rules on dog ownership but demanded that each household keep at most one dog and pay 500 yuan ($62.5) a year for the privilege, after an initial fee of 1,000 yuan ($120).
Dog numbers in Beijing have nonetheless been soaring, along with cases of bites and rabies.
The concrete-dominated capital now has about 550,000 licensed dogs, a rise of one fifth on last year, and many others remained uncounted, according to official estimates.
In the first nine months of 2006, over 100,000 people in Beijing were bitten and nine were diagnosed with rabies, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
But on Saturday middle-aged women joined twenty-somethings with pierced lips and dyed hair for the protest.
Dozens of police, some in anti-riot gear, stood guard.
“This dog is your friend,” read a sign held up by one protester in wrap-around sunglasses. “He fights for freedom.”