China's pet passion unleashed

A dog at a training school in Beijing. Pet ownership has grown rapidly in China over the past decade, with almost 30 million households now owning a dog.
A dog at a training school in Beijing. Pet ownership has grown rapidly in China over the past decade, with almost 30 million households now owning a dog. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Dog training schools, TV shows part of boom

BEIJING - Tongue drooping as it leaps over rainbow-coloured obstacles and through metal hoops, "Little Seven" is put through its paces at one of China's dog training camps.

The 2 1/2-year-old Labrador has even been trained to use a white porcelain toilet at the Mingshi Dog Industries training school, one of several in China's capital Beijing.

Up until the 1980s, keeping pet dogs was illegal in Beijing because pets were considered to be a bourgeois affectation. Curbs were eased in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Pet ownership has grown rapidly in China over the past decade, with almost 30 million households now owning a dog, according to research group Euromonitor.

The canine boom has boosted a wealth of sideline industries - including facilities such as Mingshi, where owners can leave their pooches when they go on holiday.

Movies and TV shows featuring dogs are also increasingly popular, and Mingshi's "Little Seven" stars in a TV series debuting this month.

"It can understand commands from anyone. It's basically like a person, but can't speak," said Ms Zheng Chun of the school's marketing department, referring to the golden-haired dog.

But it is not all about celebrity pets. Owners send their charges to the facility in the hope that they will become more obedient, she added.

On a visit to the school this month, reporters saw trainers scrubbing the animals in metal sinks before putting them in sunlit concrete compartments for a rest.

German shepherds, Bichons Frises and poodles resembling teddy bears all live at the facility, which has about 150 residents, she said.

"After training, the dogs are very skilled. They will listen to their master's instructions, just like a child in school," Ms Zheng said.

China's pet owners have also helped spearhead a burgeoning animal protection movement, protesting against abuses like Monday's dog meat festival in the southern city of Yulin.

A CNN report yesterday said the annual festival, which sees some 10,000 dogs served up as meals, has become a battlefront in China's nascent animal rights movement.

Activists say many of the animals are stolen household pets that are then transported thousands of kilometres crammed into wire cages and denied food and water, said CNN.

"We deeply oppose the dog meat festival. My friends online all oppose it," Ms Zheng said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2015, with the headline 'China's pet passion unleashed'. Print Edition | Subscribe