Beijing authorities on Monday defended their campaign to confiscate unregistered and oversized dogs, saying it was launched in response to complaints from the public.
"With the increasing numbers of dogs in our city, dog bites, barking, and hygiene issues have become a serious problem," said Yu Hongyuan, deputy director of the Beijing Public Security Bureau. "To alleviate this and to make our rabies prevention efforts more effective, the city government launched this campaign."
Yu said 29,000 unregistered dogs had been found since authorities began rounding them up in November, citing regulations that date to 1995 but have not been consistently enforced.
It was not clear how many of those dogs were confiscated or how many were simply registered.
In an apparent attempt to ease public anger over the campaign, officials on Monday took several dozen Chinese and foreign journalists to inspect a dog found on the outskirts of the city where some 600 abandoned, oversized and confiscated dogs are housed.
Beijing has 550,323 registered dogs - a fivefold increase from 1994, Yu said. Officials have said the total number - including unregistered dogs - could be up to a million dogs in a city of 13 million people.
A sharp rise in rabies cases this year led to a renewed clampdown across China and at least two mass slaughters of dogs. The official Xinhua News Agency said rabies killed 326 people nationwide in October alone.
In Beijing, 12 people have died from rabies in the first 11 months of this year but only one victim was bitten by a dog in the city, said Deng Xiaohong, deputy director of the Beijing Health Bureau. The 11 other victims were bitten elsewhere, she said.
However, non-rabies dog bite cases in the city were up 22 percent, hitting 118,000 by Nov. 15, Deng said. She said 70 percent of the victims were dog owners or their family members.
Yu said the recent campaign had already reduced public complaints about dogs, although he didn't give exact figures.
Critics say owners should be given more time to register their dogs or find them new homes and argue that the ban on dogs over 35 centimeters (14 inches) is arbitrary. They say aggressive breeds should be banned instead.
The city also bans households from having more than one dog.
Yu, Deng and other officials took reporters through the Beijing Canine Holding Center, a white-tiled facility lined with rows of wire cages, most housing just one dog. Each cage had a carpet square and separate dishes for water and food. The site also had an exercise area with toys and platforms for jumping.
The center allows adoptions of small dogs for qualified city residents and of big dogs for people in the countryside if they have the necessary permit. A few dozen a month find homes, the AP says.
Tang Yunli, a Public Security official, said some of the larger dogs would be trained to be police or guard dogs and that sick or injured dogs are euthanized.
"I really can't fault them on this (facility)," said Jill Robinson, founder of AnimalsAsia, a Hong Kong-based animal rights group. "It's up to Western standards."
Robinson said she asked authorities to consider allowing oversized dogs to be neutered and returned to their families with donated muzzles.