It's not often that dogs get a new life, especially in a country where they can end up on the dinner table, but 30 canines from Beijing yesterday emigrated to the US for a fresh start.
They are the first to leave China as part of a program by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to relieve crowding at Chinese animal shelters and highlight the growing problem of abandoned pets.
"We want to send the message to the Chinese public that these animals are very healthy and should be adopted in China," He Yong, a communications manager for IFAW China, told reporters.
The 30 "VIPs" -- Very Important Pets, as state media called them -- were placed in crates and boarded a plane for New York.
All the canine emigrants have been vaccinated, checked for health problems and been house-trained. They also passed strict behavioral screenings and were picked from 200 candidates.
"We're very confident they're going to make good pets," He said.
The animals will spend about a week in a US shelter before being "re-homed" to families, mainly on the east coast, which have already been found and are eagerly awaiting their new companions.
Americans have been adopting unwanted Chinese babies for years -- something that some Chinese people find embarrassing.
He said the dog adoption project was not intended to embarrass people but to change their mindset.
The emigrants include Dalmatians and German shepherds -- dogs which exceed the capital's 35cm height restriction for pets. Forty-one breeds are banned under Beijing law.
Other emigres, including small Pekinese or Shih Tzu, were thrown out on the streets by their owners who snubbed them because they were too common. They prefer Chihuahuas.
He said that in China, dog owners have an image of "being in a comparatively high social class."
It was fashionable to keep a famous breed like a Dalmatian, but owners abandoned them once they realized they might not make good pets because they need lots of attention and are frisky, he said.
"One of the things we're trying to stress is a good pet doesn't have to be a good breed," He said.
IFAW hopes it will not have to keep exporting Chinese canines. It is lobbying the government to relax the breed and size restrictions and educate owners to be responsible.