Pets have become the latest victims in China’s attemptto rid itself of the SARS virus.

According to officials in Beijing, dogs and cats belonging to SARS victims are being rounded up and killed.

There is currently no scientific link to suggest that SARS can be spread from household pets to humans but the Chinese authorities are not taking any chances.

A Beijing police official told the French news agency AFP that: “pets spread diseases. People can take measures to prevent diseases being spread, but not pets.

If a familyhas SARS and they have pets, we will catch and kill the pets regardless of whether they show SARS symptoms.”

By law, Chinese citizens are required to pay a special tax if they own a pet, but this measure was largely ignored until now, when police officers are actively enforcing it.

An official said: “If we find any stray dogs or cats, or if anyone makes a report to the police about people illegally raising pets, we will send people out to catch the animals and deal with them.”

Pet-phobia is now spreading among common people. According to the Beijing Star Daily, a man threw his pet Pekinese dog out of a sixth floor window because he believed it had the SARS virus.

“It is understandable that people are panicking, but there is currently no scientific evidence showing that healthy cats and dogs can pass this virus to humans,” said Dr. Zhang Li, China Country Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). “It is tragic that people are abandoning or killing these innocent cats and dogs simply out of fear.”

IFAW and the Beijing Humankind and Animal Environmental Education Centre have launched an emergency response to the situation. As part of this plan, a mobile veterinary clinic will respond to reports of abandoned pets while both the organisations have begun distributing detailed information on the SARS virus.

“We at IFAW also hope that this emergency animal plan will allow the government and public to focus on the important task of providing care to the human victims of this virus, by dispelling the rumours that cats and dogs spread it,” added Dr. Zhang.

For more information on the work being carried out by IFAW in response to the SARS crisis click here to visit their website.