Monday, April 17, 2006

Captive Dogs

Apparently, it is illegal to walk dogs on the street or in any public place in Shanghai. This includes licensed dogs, and dogs that are on a leash and muzzled.

At first, it seemed hard to believe, but I have now confirmed the information with several news sources and websites, as well as several expat dog owners.

The dog owners I spoke to confirmed that this is rarely enforced, especially with foreigners, and I know I've seen dogs on public streets. However, at least for now, we are confining our dogs to the grounds of our apartment complex, which are luckily rather nice and spacious.

Apparently, lawsuits are possible here not only for dog bites or attacks, but for the harm dogs cause by frightening passersby - in some cases, a dog simply barking at someone is grounds for a lawsuit and destruction of the animal.

Worse yet, the penalties for unregistered dogs are very serious. Teams of dogcatchers will catch and destory unregistered dogs, in some cases including dogs that are in veterinary offices undergoing treatment. One vet was quoted in a newspaper discussing a "dog-catching team" that broke into his hospital and took away thirteen dogs, in some cases pulling out their transfusion and IV tubes and loading them into a wagon to be destroyed.

Of course, the registration process is extremely arduous and expensive, at several hundred dollars per dog. The forms must be filled out at your local police station in Chinese, by a local Chinese citizen (a residency permit is not sufficient for foreigners). The dog must undergo a government veterinary exam, and the owner must obtain a letters of approval from neighbors, building management, the police, and the public safety administration. You must also submit three photos of each dog along with copies of your passport and your lease.

All this is even more strange because at the same time, there are 100,000 registered dogs in Shanghai, and trendy pet boutiques, kennels, and groomers opening up in several places in the city. Owning a (very tiny) dog is something of a status symbol among wealthy Shanghaiese, and of course many expats also have dogs. I'm still trying to reconcile the boutique stores that sell dog food at $20 a bag with dogs being rounded up out of veterinary clinics and incinerated at local stations. There's obviously some disconnect here.

I would have guessed the laws would loosen as dog ownership here becomes increasingly popular, but further research suggested that many of these laws only came into existence in the last few years, to combat that very trend.

I post this mainly as helpful information for any dog owners who are considering relocating to Shanghai. I'm pretty annoyed that no one told us this before - not the real estate company that works with Intel, the customs agents, the pet relocation company to whom we paid about $600, the kennel where the dogs were quarantined, or anyone else.