Beijing authorities on Monday defended their campaign to confiscate unregistered and oversized dogs, saying it was launched in response to public complaints about barking and biting.

Officials also took several dozen Chinese and foreign journalists to inspect a dog pound on the outskirts of the city where some 600 abandoned, oversized and confiscated dogs are housed. The tour was an apparent attempt to ease public anger over the campaign, which dog owners and animal rights groups say is cruel.

Critics say owners should be given more time to register their dogs or find them new homes and argue that the ban on dogs larger than 14 inches is arbitrary. They say aggressive breeds should be banned instead. The city also bans households from having more than one dog.

Yu Hongyuan, deputy director of the Beijing Public Security Bureau, said the city decided to start enforcing the regulations, which date to 1995, because the city's dog population was growing so fast.

Beijing has 550,323 registered dogs — a fivefold increase from 1994, he said. Officials have said the total number — including unregistered dogs — could be up to 1 million dogs in a city of 13 million people.

"With the increasing numbers of dogs in our city, dog bites, barking, and hygiene issues have become a serious problem," said Yu. "To alleviate this and to make our rabies prevention efforts more effective, the city government launched this campaign."

Yu said the campaign had already brought down public complaints over dogs, although he didn't give exact figures.

A sharp rise in rabies cases this year led to a renewed clampdown across China and at least two mass killings of dogs. The official Xinhua News Agency said rabies killed 326 people nationwide in October alone.

In Beijing, 12 people have died from rabies in the first 11 months of this year but only one was bitten by an unregistered dog in the city, said Deng Xiaohong, deputy director of the Beijing Health Bureau. The 11 other victims were bitten elsewhere, she said.

She attributed the low infection rate to successful long-term vaccination programs.

However, non-rabies dog-bite cases in Beijing were up 22 percent, hitting 118,000 by Nov. 15, Deng said. She said 70 percent of the victims were dog owners or their family members.

Yu, Deng and other officials took reporters through the Beijing Canine Holding Center, a white-tiled facility lined with rows of wire cages, most housing just one dog. Each cage had a carpet square and separate dishes for water and food. The site also had an exercise area with toys and platforms for jumping.

The center allows adoptions of the small dogs for qualified city residents and of the big dogs for people in the countryside, if they have the relevant permit. A few dozen a month find homes.

"I really can't fault them on this (facility)," said Jill Robinson, founder of AnimalsAsia, a Hong Kong-based rights group. "It's up to Western standards."

Robinson said that she asked authorities to consider allowing oversized dogs to be spayed and returned to their families with donated muzzles.