China’s boom in pet ownership

China’s boom in pet ownership

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).

Dogs1Ru 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.

Dogs3The 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.”

Dogs2Doudou, 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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Anna Z. is a freelance illustrator and portrait artist in her late 20s, with a passion for Martial Arts and Chinese culture, and is the creator of Lost Panda, a blog to China and Art. Together with her husband, a Chinese national, she writes about daily life in rural China, focusing on cultural and social differences and the joys (and sometimes difficulties) as an intercultural couple. Apart from China related topics, she publishes her artwork, photography, art material reviews and tutorials to help more people discover their creative side. She is fluent in German, English and Mandarin Chinese.

10 thoughts on “China’s boom in pet ownership

  1. I definitely see more and more pets, The sad thing is when people in a small apartment get a dog and it doesn’t get to go out often enough.

    And regulations aren’t really followed, that’s usually China.

    • Yes there is still a long way to go in china… But it’s a start, and that’s a change. For now it’s better that dog is forced to stay in an apartment for a whole day but gets fed and gets occasional love than the dog running out on the streets without food or shelter in the winter. These are baby steps but I think better than nothing.
      The thinking is changing that’s import at.

  2. Pretty cool!! Great article!! I remember when I lived in Guangzhou there were two dogs in my neighborhood I was aware of. One was walked everyday by her owner, the other one was much more kept tied with a leash on their balcony.. every once in a while I saw the woman walking this dog, a pretty Dalmatian, but suuuuuper skinny.. you could see all the bones… poor dog I thought…. but the other one was pretty happy it seemed to me.. being pretty fat also.

  3. In my area where my parents-in-law are living it seems everyone owns dogs. Sadly too many of those owners keep their dogs in little cages in the apartment and perhaps go a couple of times a week on a walk with their pets. Ofcourse there are people who actually really do take good care of their pets but it is still too common that people believe they take good care by dressing up their dogs…
    This is actually just like my mother-in-law who got a shock when she was first time in Finland and saw that people go three times a day on a walk with their dogs and all she could say was like “Are they crazy, the poor dog gets exhausted and sick outside!”. Well, thats just her but anyways there is still hope that the petownership will improve in China as more and more already are on the right track :)

  4. Animal rights, like human rights, is a luxury that people can afford when they live in rich, developed societies. Therefore, Chinese people’s treatment of animals should improve as their standard of living rises alongside their country’s rapidly developing economy.

  5. I feel like pet ownership is even changing out here in the countryside. A few years ago, everyone had these wolf-like dogs that would bark viciously at everything that moved and made a simple walk around the village a scary proposition. While you still see dogs like that, they’ve decreased a LOT. More and more people own dogs that look more like pets, and are actually a lot nicer to be around. Our family dog right now, for example, is really like a pet. He still barks when strangers come around, but he’s so affectionate, loving and fun to have around. A huge change from the withdrawn and wary wolf-like dog my in-laws had last time I was here.

    • Whoa, wolf-like dogs sounds intense. Like guard dogs, which are trained to bark all the time? Sometimes dogs bark constantly because they aren’t being treated right and that is sad.

      Where did all the wolf-like dogs go?

      • I think they were “weeded out” (which is a nice way of saying, some of them died naturally…and some of them were poisoned on purpose). In fact, one of the family’s old dogs was poisoned and it was a wolf-like dog.

  6. You chose some beautiful dogs for your essay. Ru Mei’s puppy is really adorable. This growing interest in pets seems like a good thing. I agree with Suigetsu that it’s related to China’s growing standard of living. People from developed countries shouldn’t be surprised when people in developing countries aren’t interested in taking good care of dogs and cats.

    When was it that keeping cats as pets was outlawed in China? As I remember, the law was quickly reversed, as soon as they realized how much grain the rats ate once the cats were gone.

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