His crime? Standing more than 35 centimeters (13.7 inches) tall, Dou Dou is considered a “large and vicious dog” by the city government, and as such he must be seized.
“I feel like we’re living in one of those war movies in which the Communists are searching for the Japanese and threatening to wipe them out,” Dou Dou’s adoptive mother tells the New York Times. “How can the government be so cruel?”
Dou Dou isn’t the only four-legged fugitive on the most-wanted list. In 2003, city governments have instituted a one-dog policy, strict license requirements, and a ban on large dogs. Dogs 13.7 inches or taller, whether strays or family pets, are automatically deemed aggressive, dangerous, and as such are not allowed.
In recent years, enforcement of this ban has waned, and as the popularity of dogs as members of the family has increased, people in cities like Beijing and Shanghai have added four-legged friends to their family. Many assumed the old size restrictions had lapsed, with dog owners taking in dogs of larger breeds, like the Dalmatian, the Weimaraner, and the ever-popular Labrador Retriever.
But boy, how times have changed in just a few short weeks.
Since June 13, after the release of a government order June 2, Chinese authorities are embarking on a campaign that many call cruel, confiscating even licensed family dogs in the park, on the streets and in residents’ homes, sometimes in the dead of night.
Chief Executive of the Beijing veterinary hospital International Center for Veterinary Services, Mary Peng, says her office has been overwhelmed with calls from desperate dog owners.
“People are in a complete panic,” Peng explains. “My phone has not stopped ringing.”
Dogs found in violation of the order are seized — the large ones, permanently — and the owners are then hit with a steep fine. Business owners found in possession of a dog not meeting size limitations will be fined the equivalent of $1600 USD, while individual large dog owners will have to shell out $800 USD, adding insult to devastating injury.
Heartbroken dog owners are taking to the web in droves, posting their own stories of loss and horror since the government crackdown against “large and vicious dogs.” One post includes a video showing Chinese police seizing a small white dog — a dog that certainly doesn’t qualify as an illegal large breed dog.
Police are not taking these Internet criticisms lightly; earlier this month they took a woman into custody for describing how authorities kicked a Golden Retriever to death while his owner watched helplessly. Soon after, the woman was detained and the police released a statement in which the woman is said to have admitted lying about the incident, but many believe her alleged confession is the real fabrication.
The Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau claims the elimination of “large and vicious dogs” and the one-dog limit is meant to prevent the spread of rabies, a disease that took the lives of 13 Beijing residents last year alone. According to MNN.com, however, some dogcatchers admit they are cracking down in order to fill quotas.
As the rounds of confiscations continue, terrified dog owners who can afford it have moved their precious pets outside of city limits, boarding them in kennels or rented farms in the nearby province of Hebei. But others with limited funds have resorted to hiding their four-legged friends, only allowing them out on apartment balconies in the middle of the night to do their business.
“Every time there’s a knock at the door, my heart stops,” says one dog owner, a woman with the last name Gao who witnessed authorities throwing dozens of dogs, bloody and whimpering, into a cage on the back of a dogcatcher’s truck. Ms. Gao now spends her days and nights trying to conceal her own dog from the prying eyes of police and neighbors she fears may rat her out.
“I just don’t understand why people think big dogs are a menace,” she adds. “My dog may be big, but he wouldn’t hurt a fly.”