Zat Liu: The ‘One-Dog Policy’ won’t fix Shanghai’s dog problem

Zat Liu: The ‘One-Dog Policy’ won’t fix Shanghai’s dog problem

Clause 12 is all very well, but Shanghai needs to tackle unscrupulous breeders and ignorant owners

Tall me about it - Zat Liu - one-dog policyAlthough Shanghai’s first dog regulations were released in 1993, local dog owners are on the defensive once again, after the latest addition to Shanghai canine policy came on May 15.

The new dog laws are more comprehensive than anything the city has seen before, dealing with a host of issues from cleaning up after your dog to leash laws. But the point local pet owners are debating most is the “One-Dog Policy” -- clause 12 -- limiting households to just one registered dog.

Although the new policy is a mark of progress, it misses two key aspect of Shanghai’s dog problem: unlicensed dog breeders, and Shanghaining’s lack of education about pets.

The much-discussed clause 12 shows the government’s determination to control Shanghai’s dog population, but my question remains: is the dog population in the city really growing because people have more than one dog?

The answer is clearly “no.”

In fact, clause seven of the regulations released in 1993 already stated that each household can only have one dog, but somehow this was never enforced. What makes the local government sure it will be this time around?

The new policy should look at two other issues: the city’s greedy breeders, and irresponsible pet owners who don’t understand what owning a dog really means.

The culprits

The dog problem in Shanghai stems from the unregulated pet market. Licensed and unlicensed breeders only care about making money and breeding as many dogs as they can.

This alone has increased the number of dogs in the city, with no one to care for them.

Many of Shanghai's unlicensed breeders start by merely letting their own pets mate, as many people still believe that spaying or neutering the pets is inhumane. Later they find out that selling puppies can be a high-margin business, as many people will pay mountains of kuai for the dogs.

If a puppy isn’t bought or a dog becomes sick from being stuck in a breeding cage, it’s a simple business decision for an unlicensed breeder to abandon the dog. They become useless to the breeders and get dumped, leaving Shanghai with a stray dog population that no one cares about or wants.

The government should put an emphasis on educating the population on what raising a pet means and the owner's responsibilities to the animal, and home breeders also need to be banned.

This issue ties into the other group the government should be looking at: Shanghai’s large number of irresponsible pet owners.

If the breeders do manage to find their dogs a home, the new owners often lack an understanding of what’s required to raise a dog, and pets that are less than perfect are quickly abandoned.

Shanghaining buy dogs for a number of reasons, but often without thinking much about the long-term commitment the pets need or where the dog they're buying comes from.

The breeders sell puppies as early as they can to increase profits, and owners get a young, often malnourished, unruly puppy that they're unprepared to deal with.

Even if the dog doesn't get sick from health issues related to the poor care and nutrition it received from the breeder (which often means they’re then abandoned by their current owners, who didn’t sign up for a sick dog), if they act out anyway -- from peeing where they shouldn’t to barking too much -- the owner, who was unprepared to get a dog in the first place often gives up.

Although many owners abandon dogs due to their lack of educaiton in what caring for an animal requires, other times it's more a culturally ingrained reason.

It’s a widely believed in China that pregnant women shouldn’t touch animals, and most families don’t realize that having a dog is a life-time commitment, so if a woman becomes pregnant, the dog goes.

Even if the dogs are kept and cared for, many pet owners still believe that spaying or neutering the pet is inhumane, and allow the dogs to keep breeding, again increasing the city’s pet population, and continuing the informal breeder cycle.

The Improvements

Although the new policy is a start, and there are good provisions in it, the city should widen their scope if they are serious about fixing the problem.

The new regulations do reduce licensing fees, provide incentives to dog owners to spay or neuter the dogs, make vaccinations mandatory and, most importantly, institute fines for people who abandon their dogs; but there’s more to be done, and enforcing the new policy's anti-abandonment measures is a last resort. Education needs to come first.

Teaching people what dog ownership means is the key. The government should put an emphasis on educating the population on what raising a pet means and the owner's responsibilities to the animal.

Home breeders also need to be banned, and the government should work with a well-established foreign animal rights agencies like the RSPCA or ASPCA to tackle the problems of the growing population of stray dogs in the city.

I certainly applaud the new law, but there is so much more that needs to be done so that Shanghai can truly become an international city as far as responsible pet ownership is concerned.

In addition to being a Shanghai-based journalist and animal lover, Zat Liu sits on the board of the SCAA, Second Chance Animal Aid Shanghai. For more information on SCAA and adopting a pet in Shanghai, click on www.scaashanghai.org
The opinions of this commentary are solely those of Zat Liu.
Now a freelancer writer, Zat Liu has been writing about Shanghai since 2003 when she started in "that's Shanghai" magazine.
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