SHANGHAI (Reuters Life!) - For decades, most Chinese residents of Shanghai have resigned themselves to the country's strict one-child policy. But now, a similar restriction on dogs has 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.
From May 15, city authorities began implementing a "one-dog policy" to crack down on an estimated 600,000 unregistered dogs in the financial hub, sparking opposition from pet owners.
"I have two dogs. The new policy says each family can only have one dog, but we have been living together for five years," said 56-year-old Guo Huiying.
"They are family to me, I cannot just give one of them up. I am thinking about keeping one of them at my relative's house."
While pampered pedigree dogs are a regular sight on the streets of major cities like Beijing and Shanghai, the number of strays has spiked as pets are abandoned.
Soiling of public spaces has also increased, as have complaints from neighbors not partial to canines in crowded districts and tenement blocks.
The new rule means owners whose dogs are not registered with the authorities will have to give them away. Those who already have more than one licensed dog will be able to keep them, but for new applications, only those from households without puppies will be accepted.
Many dog owners, who, depending on where they live, will have to pay a 300 to 500 yuan (around $46 to $77) yearly fee to keep their pets under the new law, criticized the policy as discriminatory and poorly thought out.
"As far as I know, the fee covers three parts - namely epidemic prevention, the chip, and management -- according to the authorities. I hope that since we will have to pay a management fee, they will actually manage the situation well," said 25-year-old dog owner Fan Wenjie.
Owners will be given one month starting from Sunday to register their dogs and find new homes for the extra ones.
Shanghai's pet dog population is estimated at 800,000 -- although only a quarter of that number are registered, local media reported. Hefty registration fees of up to 2,000 yuan ($307) were blamed for the proliferation of unregistered dogs.
Authorities say widespread illegal dog-keeping is responsible for a spate of rabies outbreaks across China, but critics say this was merely an excuse for mass culling. Over 30,000 stray and pet dogs were culled in a city in northern Shaanxi province last year, drawing condemnation from international animal rights groups.
Other Chinese cities have been subject to strict canine laws and pricy dog-ownership fees including Nanjing and Beijing, which restricts the ownership of large dogs.
But pet stores, which have also proliferated in recent years, say they are not worried.
"There are many services for pets now. And pet owners are willing to spend more money on pet services than before because pets have become a very important family member, "said Guo Zongxian, manager of pet store Naughty Family.
"That's why there will be more and more services for pets. I don't think the new policy will have a great impact."
Reporting by Reuters TV Shanghai, editing by Elaine Lies