Pet pooches are once again free to roam the streets of Jiangmen without fear of the dogcatcher after accusations of animal cruelty forced officials in the southern Chinese city to pull back from a plan to cull dogs from the urban area.
Originally the city had planned to clear "illegally-raised dogs" from its downtown area after a spate of canine attacks led to a higher incidence of rabies. Dog owners were ordered to bring their pets to special stations where they would be either put to sleep or given to new owners in the countryside. Dogcatchers were readying to team up with police to search for "illegal dogs", with any strays destined to be killed on the spot.
However, there was outraged reaction among local residents, with large numbers criticising what they said was inhumane treatment of otherwise innocent canines. "The key problem is to educate people to raise dogs in a civilised way rather than simply ban dogs," local resident Wang Yubin said.
And although city officials have backtracked from a full-scale canine massacre, the rules are still pretty harsh.
From now on, pet dogs are banned from public places such as parks, squares and shopping malls. Residents who take dogs to public venues "would be advised to leave". And in the case of attacks, dog owners would be responsible for all medical bills, lost wages and other compensation, a report on the official Xinhua news agency said.
Owners have until 26 August to license their pets, but the details of how they go about this remains unclear. On the Chinese social networking site Sinaweibo, the reaction ranged from the wry to the outraged.
"So, because a top official in Jiangmen gets bitten by a dog, the whole city is forbidden to have a dog? Does that mean if a person hit him, they would kill all the people in Jiangmen?" asked Wu Gaolong.
Despite the furore over the new plans, dogs do remain a problem in the city of nearly four million. According to Xinhua news agency, 12,014 people were injured by dogs in Jiangmen last year and 42 people died of rabies between 2008 and 2010.
The new policies are the latest instance of the uneasy relationships between man's best friend and the Chinese authorities. During the Communist era of Mao Tse-tung, pets were frowned upon as a middle-class affectation and government opponents were condemned as capitalist running dogs. But China's growing openness, combined with its rising affluence, means that pets are making a comeback, and there are around 100 million pet dogs in China.