Beijing authorities have rejected claims they are beating to death dogs rounded up under a "one dog" per household policy in the capital, state media reported Tuesday.

Witnesses in the Chinese capital say police have gone through neighborhoods, seizing unregistered dogs and killing them to enforce new restrictions that limit households to one dog and ban larger breeds as part of a campaign to fight rabies.

But the official Xinhua News Agency said Tuesday police denied "that dogs had been slaughtered in the city."

"I have never heard of dogs being culled after they were caught by police," Xinhua quoted Bao Suixian, an official with the Ministry of Public Security, as saying. "Dogs are a man's best friend and we treat them as friends, even when we have to lock them up for the sake of public security."

The Beijing News newspaper quoted an unnamed Beijing Public Security Bureau official as saying "some people mistakenly consider the campaign as a 'dog-killing' campaign."

Telephones at the dog administration office of the bureau rang busy on Tuesday.

Complaints about vicious dogs, barking and excrement-covered sidewalks prompted Beijing to impose height limits in 1995, banning dogs taller than 14 inches from the city center.

A sharp rise in rabies cases this year led to a renewed clampdown across China. Xinhua said rabies killed 326 people nationwide in October alone.

The ban on multiple dogs was imposed Nov. 6 in Beijing and gave owners 10 days to comply or the dogs would be seized and the owners fined.

Officials say there are at least 1 million dogs in the city of 13 million people and that half of them are not registered. Only 3 percent of China's dogs are vaccinated against rabies, which attacks the nervous system and can be fatal.

The Beijing News said dogs that are seized are put up for adoption, but it did not say what happened to dogs who do not find new owners. The public security official said about 500 dogs had been collected and that most had been voluntarily given up by their owners.

On Saturday, about 500 demonstrators angry over the crackdown staged a noisy protest at the entrance to the Beijing Zoo — many holding up stuffed animals and chanting. About 200 police watched the protesters.

Rabies has become a growing problem in China, and the Health Ministry has said 2,660 people died of rabies in 2004, compared with 159 reported fatalities in 1996.

In the first three quarters of this year, the country recorded 2,254 rabies cases, an increase of 30 percent over the same period last year.

Keeping pets has evoked controversy in China for decades. Banned as a middle-class habit in the radical Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and '70s, dog-raising surged after the introduction of free-market reforms in the late 1970s.