Rent-a-dog gives lead to opponents of ban on pets

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PEKING (AFP) - In Peking it is possible to rent bicycles, cars, cellular telephones and . . . dogs. Lei Lei, aged 12, cannot believe it. For the first time in his life, the Year of the Dog, he has petted one. Then, after a moment's hesitation, he proudly walks Wawa on a lead, one of 20 canines for rent in the 'Friends of the dog park'.

This kennel, in Shahe, 25km (15 miles) north of Peking, offers dog rentals for a few minutes, or for

a few hours for the richer clients. The cost: two yuan (about 14 pence) for 10 minutes, plus a 10 yuan entrance fee.

The reason for success is simple. A municipal ordinance forbids the raising of dogs in the capital. The official reason is hygiene, but also because keeping pet dogs has been considered bourgeois since the founding of Communist China in 1949.

In the past few years, hundreds of residents have broken the law by discreetly taking dogs as pets, usually small ones. The dog has even become a sign of wealth for the wives of wealthy private entre preneurs.

'Most people have never approached a dog and many are really scared,' said Lei Lei's mother, for whom the first encounter with the animal had become an event.

But the quickest way to find a dog in China's big cities is to enter the restaurants and kitchens, where they remain on the menu.