BY AUDRA ANG

The Associated Press

BEIJING - Elaine Loke is shutting down her dog boutique and will spirit her golden retrievers Hippy and Bally out of Beijing to escape the city's sweeping anti-rabies campaign.

Dog owners like Loke have been scrambling to hide their pets in the face of a new crackdown which allows only one dog per household and bans breeds taller than 14 inches. Fears have been fueled by graphic Internet pictures and witnesses who say police are beating to death strays and dogs that run afoul of regulations.

"I can't believe this is happening," said Loke, 33, who keeps the curtains in her first-floor apartment drawn to ward off prying neighbors and walks her dogs in an underground parking lot. "It's so stressful. In the morning, I hear dogs barking and people talking outside my home and I think the police are coming."

The pressure is so bad that Loke is returning to her native Hong Kong and closing a business she has had for two years.

In China, dogs have long been seen as a source of meat as much as companionship. But the current crackdown has touched a nerve in the rapidly modernizing capital, especially among its middle class.

"What kind of rules are these? I don't expect everybody to love animals. But I do want to have my rights to keep pets," said Clare Xiao, an account manager at an advertising company. She sent her larger Brittany to a kennel run by a friend and kept her Pekinese, a stray she found on the street.

"What the government is doing is just disappointing, cold and emotionless," said Xiao.

Many of the prohibitions have been on the books since 2003, but only sporadically enforced. The city of 13 million people has 1 million dogs, half of them unregistered, according to state media.

A sharp increase in rabies cases nationwide has prompted the renewed vigilance. Only 3 percent of China's dog's are vaccinated against rabies and the disease is nearly always fatal in humans.

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