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Beijing residents warned to avoid stray dogs after more than 2,000 people report being bitten

More than 2,000 Beijing residents were bitten by dogs during the three-day Mid-Autumn Festival holiday last week, prompting disease control authorities in the capital to issue a warning.

The Beijing Centre for Disease Control and Prevention urged residents to stay away from stray dogs during the upcoming week-long National Day holiday and to get a rabies shot if bitten.

On Tuesday, some 30 people reported being bitten by a small white stray downtown, causing a stir on social media.

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A week earlier, at least 12 people said they were bitten by a stray near the Beijing Information Science and Technology University.

In August, 23 people were bitten by a stray in Chaoyang district. The youngest victim was just under two years old and the oldest aged 71.

Animal protection organisations in the city called for the government to control the number of stray dogs, impose tougher restrictions, and bee up punishment of people who abandon pets.

Rules on keeping dogs, introduced in 2003 but not ever updated, state that the city’s public security authorities are responsible for setting up shelters to “take in and deal with” strays.

But police complained they were unable to properly manage such a large number of animals, according to the Xinmin Evening News.

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There is no official count of the number of strays in the capital, but the number of registered pet dogs has been growing rapidly since the ownership rules were introduced.

In 2011, Beijing’s 20 million residents registered more than one million pet dogs, a sevenfold increase from 2003, mainland media reported at the time.

But animal protection organisations in the city say the real number is much higher, after factoring in unregistered dogs.

They put the total at more than 2 million in Beijing in 2013, mainland news magazine Oriental Outlook reported.

Chris Barden, founder of Little Adoption Shop, said the municipal government should overhaul its dog management policies and enforcement measures.

Little Adoption Shop is an animal welfare and protection group based in Beijing that focuses on rescuing stray dogs. “The policies are unrealistic and enforcement is arbitrary, brutal and unscientific,” Barden said.

For instance, there is a 35cm height limit for dogs and a one dog per household rule.

Dog licence fees in key parts of the city are 1,000 yuan (HK$1,160) the first year and 500 each year after that. In most neighbourhoods, an owner could only ­obtain a licence in the summer, which led to many people missing the deadline, he said.

“I personally believe that both policies will lead to an increase in the spread of rabies, because these policies and brutal, random enforcement are leading to ­people keeping dogs that are ­unvaccinated and completely outside the government’s supervision,” Barden said.

Additional reporting by Jane Li