Being back in Shanghai, the first thing I’ve noticed, apart from the increased number of foreigners, is the increased number of pet owners.
More and more Chinese people take on the responsibility of owning a pet. In the morning and in the evening you will see usually elderly people walking their fluffy little best friends. Sometimes dressed in a raincoat or little dog boots. It seems even in China many people have learned how to give their pets a good, spoiled life.
After I had made some bad experiences and was confronted with hate and disapproval when I took in Happy, a poor street dog, for me China’s horrible reputation of mistreating animals was just confirmed.
However, lately I have seen so many dog and cat owners here in Shanghai. And friends up in Beijing describe a similar phenomenon. I decided it was time to do some field research. So I went out to the local dog parks in Shanghai to chat up a few dog owners. It is incredible how the views have changed. There seems to be a rising sentiment towards animal welfare in Shanghai (and maybe in more parts of China).
Ru Mei got her little puppy from a breeder outside Shanghai. And she is actually a perfect example of the new rising trend in China’s big cities: China’s New Dissidents - People who decide to get dogs which are technically illegal because they are above the size limit. Her dog will obviously grow bigger than the size limit of 35.5 cm in Shanghai. However, more and more Chinese people decide to raise an oversized dog.
The film, Oversized Dogs: Chinese Dog Laws and the People Who Break Them, is an interesting piece about how dog ownership in China turns out to be an interesting examination of evolving attitudes in Chinese society today.
For Ru Mei it was never important how big her dog would be or what kind of breed. When she saw Fangfang, she knew that would be her new life companion.
The first question I asked him was if it is his dog. And, yes, it was. I was curious because I rarely see Chinese young guys owning dogs.
The usual sight is an elderly man or lady with a dog on a leash. The parks are also full of young girls with the cute fluffy breed, or the very expensive posh breed. But he just caught my eye.
“I don’t have a girlfriend, and my work is very stressful. So I wanted a friend who waits for me at home when I finish work”, he told me when I asked him why he got a dog. I was wondering why not a cat, if it is just about the companionship.
A cat would have been so much easier to take care off. But he explained he wanted more from a pet: “Dogs are like best friends, and they will always be loyal. Cats just care about themselves.”
Doudou, the fluffy dog, was actually her grandmother’s dog and she was taking care of him because her grandma had some health issues. She told me Doudou has been with her grandmother for nearly ten years now. She would walk him several times a day and meet with other dog owners.
It is quite difficult to find a good place in Shanghai for your dog to play around as most parks and public places don’t allow dogs.
Her grandmother would take Doudou to the hairdresser at least ones a month and buy only high quality dog food in foreign supermarkets.
I have to say I enjoyed talking to all those people. It did change my attitude. There is still hope for China to become a paradise for pets. China is changing and with more and more people having more disposable income to spend on pets, leisure, fashion, travel and so on, it will continue to change. What I saw in Shanghai is just a small part of the changing process currently underway. But still, even though things are changing, they are changing slowly. Things we take for granted in Germany like immunizations or rules for breeders are still in the process of being developed.
What do you think about pet ownership in China? Is it changing?
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