Jeff He, the Chinese spokesman for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, also expressed his group's opposition to the current crackdown on dogs. He said it reflected "incorrect, backward and unscientific thinking" on the part of city officials about the best way to control rabies, which is through mass vaccination.
Moreover, the IFAW spokesman pointed out that there were no recorded deaths in Beijing attributed to rabies for a whole decade up to 2004. This year, there were nine rabies deaths in the city, but the victims were all bitten by dogs in other provinces and rushed to the capital for medical treatment.
The public and international outcry appeared to catch even the Beijing police by surprise. Bao Suixian, an official with the Ministry of Public Security, had to publicly deny any plans to carry out a mass slaughter of dogs.
"Dogs are man's best friend and we treat them as friends, even when we have to lock them up for the sake of public security," Bao told the official Xinhua news agency. But he defended the "one dog" policy as a "strict but civilized" campaign to regulate dog ownership in the capital. Another police spokesman told a Beijing newspaper that it was a mistake for some people to "consider the campaign a 'dog-killing' campaign."
Beijing police have so far disclosed that they have seized more than 500 dogs during the past week. A spokesman said these dogs are in detention centers and will not be killed, except for those with rabies. He added that city residents who are willing and are qualified to have a pet dog can apply to adopt any of these seized dogs.
However, Jeff He, the IFAW spokesman, said that Beijing has limited capacity in its canine detention centers, resulting in the dogs living in overcrowded conditions inside these centers.
The growing concern about a mass slaughter of dogs recalls a controversy last July and August when Chinese authorities launched several mass killings of dogs. In one county in the southwestern province of Yunnan, where three people died of rabies, the local authorities killed 50,000 dogs, many of them reported to have been beaten in front of their owners.
Beijing officials said the current crackdown on dogs will continue till the end of the year. Meanwhile, the city is considering a scheme to tighten its control over the capital's dog population by implanting a computer chip in each dog's ear, neck or thigh.The chip will store data on the dog's identity, breed and registration, together with the owner's name, address and phone number.
This digital management system is already being implemented in Shanghai, and Beijing authorities hope the new scheme will help in preventing the spread of rabies cases in the capital.