Sat, Aug 03, 2013 - Page 6 News List

FEATURE: Beijing policeman goes off the leash to rescue dogs

AFP, BEIJING

A puppy plays in front of a policeman who asked to be identified only by his online nickname, Xiao Hei, at an office in Beijing on July 19.

Photo: AFP

Fluffy or short-haired, gentle or fierce, Beijing’s dogs are being targeted by cage-wielding police, but one officer is secretly trying to ensure the campaign’s bark is worse than its bite. A stepped-up crackdown on “oversized” and unregistered dogs has provoked panic among the capital’s expanding ranks of pet owners and enraged China’s emerging animal rights movement.

The most subversive response of all has come from one uniformed crusader, a policeman himself, who has defied the rules to rescue dozens of pooches from the clutches of his fellow officers over the years.

“My colleagues don’t have any feelings toward dogs,” said the 50-year old, asking to be identified only via his online nickname, Xiao Hei.

In a small guardhouse office where he keeps seven canines, he reluctantly admitted that his actions were against the law.

“I ask my colleagues [at the police station] first. But if they won’t give the dog to me, I’ll steal it,” he said, a black-spotted dog nestling against his blue police shirt.

His modus operandi is simple — he returns to his police station late at night, when fewer personnel are on duty, takes a dog out of its cage and sneaks it past his fellow officers.

He tries to find his charges new homes online, where activists have lionized him as Beijing’s greatest dog-lover.

Xiao Hei said he was spurred to action by the sight of animals packed into cages waiting to die.

Beijing banned all canines from its city center until 1983, but some estimate it is now home to more than 1 million dogs.

However, the city has maintained a ban on 40 large breeds, from St. Bernards and Great Danes to British bulldogs and dalmatians, according to regulations posted online.

Registration of smaller dogs — costing 1,000 yuan (US$160) — is compulsory, with annual renewals priced at 500 yuan.

“Some owners don’t have the ability to pay,” Xiao Hei said, pointing at a small golden dog. “This one was taken from an old person living on social security.”

A police order in June gave owners of large dogs 10 days to remove their pets from central Beijing or face being fined 10,000 yuan and having their animals seized.

Authorities say the campaign is aimed at ridding the city of dangerous breeds liable to target humans. State-run news agency Xinhua reported that 2,400 dog attacks occurred in China last year.

Once oversized dogs are confiscated they cannot be retrieved. The animals are put down and sometimes sold to restaurants for their meat, activists say.

A video showing a policeman grabbing a small white dog from the arms of its angry owner before placing it in a cage went viral in June, with outraged supporters venting their fury online.

Xiao Hei says he has rescued 12 dogs so far this summer — five of which he keeps at home in defiance of regulations limiting households to one canine each.

“The regulations are unreasonable,” he said bluntly, in an unusual public expression of dissent by a law enforcement agent. “If people can afford to raise more than one dog, I don’t see why it should be illegal.”

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