Chinese county sticks to dog-walking ban despite outcry

Society & Culture

A county in southwest China has pressed ahead with a dog-walking ban aimed at stopping pet-related injuries and complaints despite widespread criticism that the policy is unnecessarily extreme and badly conceived.

china dogs

A county in southwest China has pressed ahead with a dog-walking ban aimed at stopping pet-related injuries and complaints despite widespread criticism that the policy is unnecessarily extreme and badly conceived.

The controversial directive was announced on November 13 by the local government of Weixin County in Yunnan Province, which said that starting from last Friday, pet owners in the area must keep their dogs indoors at all times. The new rules include a three-strikes penalty system: Dog owners would receive a warning the first time they were seen walking their pets in public, while a second strike would lead to fines of up to 200 yuan, and a third violation would result in the animal being confiscated and killed.

According to local authorities, the regulations are intended to curb an alarming uptick in dog-related injuries and disputes in the country. When speaking to Sixth Tone, a country official surnamed Wu pointed to two factors that prompted the decision — a growing number of complaints about dogs biting people, and “a recent scuffle between a sanitation worker and a pet owner,” who left dog excrement in a public space.

Shortly after the ban was announced, Chinese social media was abuzz with indignation, with critics denouncing what they called “cruel” and “lazy” policies. “It’s common knowledge that domesticated dogs still need outdoor breaks for exercise and mental stimulation. Banning them from going out is basically ruining their lives,” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese).

Many opponents also argued that instead of employing “extreme” measures to punish dogs for something they have no control over, the Weixin government should tighten its handling of irresponsible dog owners. “We welcome any regulations of dogs as long as it is pet-friendly and appropriate. Unlike Weixin’s ban on dog walking, we need more rules regulating the behavior of dog owners,” said (in Chinese) Sūn Hǎiyáng 孙海阳, a legal advisor for AITA (北京爱它动物保护公益基金), a Beijing-based foundation for animal protection.

However, not everyone was inclined to criticize the regulations. On Weibo, dog-haters were vocal about their support for the penalties, arguing that fretting over dogs excessively seemed to be a case of misplaced priorities, and an insult to the needs and safety of the human community. “Extreme measures are justifiable in precarious situations. And those dangerous dogs certainly have constituted a threat to the public,” a Weibo user commented (in Chinese).

As the controversy escalated, Weixin officials said last week that they would “consider re-examining” the dog-walking ban and the threatened death penalty. But as Hongxing News reported (in Chinese), the local government did not halt the implementation of the policy, which officially took effect on November 20.

A spokesperson for the Weixin government told Honxing News that local officials were aware of a whole range of opinions online. According to their estimation, between 60 percent and 70 percent of the responses were positive, he said. The spokesperson also stressed that dog-related issues were one of the top priorities on the government’s agenda. “We never considered reversing the decision,” the spokesperson said, adding that minor changes to the regulations were under discussion, such as deleting the word “kill” from the directive to make its wording less “incendiary.”

In today’s China, dog ownership is a divisive issue: Weixin was not the first local government to introduce rules and regulations for dog owners after disputes and complaints. In 2018, Hangzhou launched a “civilized dog-raising” campaign that restricted dog owners from taking their pets outdoors between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. In cities like Chengdu and Qingdao, there’s a limit of one dog per household.