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GUANGZHOU, China (Reuters Life!) - For decades, most Chinese residents of the southern city of Guangzhou have resigned themselves to the country's strict one-child policy. Now, a similar restriction on dogs has got them howling mad.
Raising dogs was banned under the rule of late Chinese leader Mao Zedong as a bourgeois pastime, but with China's growing affluence and pursuit of Western trends, greater numbers of middle-class families have become avid pet owners in a booming social trend.
While pampered pedigree dogs are a regular sight on the streets of major cities like Guangzhou and Beijing, the boom has spiked the number of strays as pets get abandoned. The number of public spaces getting soiled has also increased, as have the complaints from neighbors not partial to canines in crowded districts and tenement blocks.
On July 1, city authorities implemented the "one-dog policy" seen as a crackdown on the estimated 100,000 unregistered dogs in Guangzhou ahead of the Asian Games in the city next year.
But so far, many outraged pet owners in the sprawling metropolis have chosen to ignore, or dodge, the new laws.
"I'll definitely not give up on my dogs because they're a part of my life," said an office worker surnamed Chen with six dogs in a leafy neighborhood in downtown Guangzhou.
Another owner with two small dogs criticized the policy as discriminatory and poorly thought out.
"I'm very angry, what's the difference between one dog or two dogs. Will it disturb people more?," said the woman who declined to be named given the sensitivities involved.
Irene Fung, the Guangzhou-based manager for animal rights group Animals Asia said while it didn't support this new policy, it urged dog owners with multiple dogs to compromise or risk a stiffer police crackdown in future, including raids on homes.
"Many people are saying let's wait and see ... but we would urge all dog owners to deal with the new policy flexibly. If you have two or three dogs you can ask your relatives or friends to help register them instead," she said.
If caught, authorities say police may seize illegally kept dogs and impose a 2,000 yuan ($293) fine.
On the Chinese dog lover's website www.goumin.com, dog owners are stepping up efforts to find new homes for their pets through online posts, few trusting government-run kennels, which have offered to take in illegal pets.
While only a trickle of dog owners registered their dogs in the first few weeks of the one-dog policy, Fung of Animals Asia said Guangzhou police had now registered around 20,000 dogs.
A vast reduction in the dog registration fee from around 10,000 yuan ($1,464) per dog to 500 yuan is seen as a key reason for this. The hefty fees were widely blamed on the proliferation of unregistered dogs in Guangzhou in the past.
Illegal dog-keeping has been blamed by authorities on a spate of rabies outbreaks across China, but critics say this is merely an excuse for mass cullings. Over 30,000 stray and pet dogs were culled in a city in northern Shaanxi province this year, drawing condemnation from international animal rights groups.
Other Chinese cities have been subject to strict canine laws and pricey dog-ownership fees including Nanjing, and Beijing which restricts the ownership of large dogs.
Editing by Miral Fahmy