China's pet project, from pooches to porkers
(China Daily)
Updated: 2007-03-09 10:00

China's pet project, from pooches to porkersThere's a restaurant in Beijing where people push trays along a buffet, selecting nutritionally sound, homemade nosh for their dogs. It also serves human food so that dog and owner can sup together. That's after swimming, jumping through hoops and bounding around the obstacle course at what claims to be Asia's biggest canine theme park.

Coolbaby opened last year in Chaoyang Park. It's a sign of the times. As city incomes rise, what was formerly considered a bourgeois pastime is now a highly sought after status symbol. The people want pets.

Beijing is responding in the only way it knows. There's the theme park. Then there's the "portable chamber pots" designed for dogs that are being handed out in some city districts. One park in Haidian has even set up four purpose-built pooch loos.

Sure, wizened old men take their caged birds for walks in the park nothing new there. At least they're spared the indignity of doggie suits and shoes.

But it seems nearly every day a new breed of pet crazy comes to light. And not just in Beijing. The latest is raising pet pigs. Yes, because it's the Year of the Pig. Xinhua reported that in Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province, pet porkers sell for 300 yuan ($38). Their doting owners dress them up in tailor-made outfits and walk them on leashes.

Goldfish are no longer edgy enough. What you need is a roach. A pet shop in Chongqing is selling cockroaches specially imported from the United States yours for 50 to 100 yuan ($6-12) depending on size. It claims to have sold over 30 of them, disinfected and with quarantine certificates, mainly to young women. They're kept in jars and fed fruit and vegetables.

Of course there's a lot of money to be made from all this. It's estimated that by 2010 there will be 150 million pets in China, and the industry is expected to break the 40-billion-yuan ($5.16 billion) barrier by then, according to a national Business Daily report. Whether that figure includes insects is anyone's guess.

Annual sales of pet food in China are expected to top 6 billion yuan ($7.74 million) in 2008 and to exceed 15 billion yuan ($1.93 billion) in the next 15 years, according to the China Food Association. Mars was way ahead of the game. It set up a pet food factory in Beijing 10 years ago. It owns international pet food brands that launched on the market in the 1990s. Its rival Nestle recently opened its first pet food processing plant in Tianjin at a cost of 80 million yuan ($10 million), from where it will produce 20,000 tons of pet food a year.

China's vets and boarding services are in demand. Pet shops, accessories stores, animal acupuncturists in fact anyone with an entrepreneurial bent can seemingly cash in on this craze. Pet matchmakers are reportedly doing a roaring trade in China's major cities, finding the perfect pets for their clients for a mere 10,000 yuan ($1,291). Then there's the pet "beauty" centers springing up all over the place, and private trainers charging from 300 to 10,000 yuan ($38-1,291).

A dog in Qingdao was pictured on CRI's website in a homemade "mask" fashioned from a plastic bottle. Its owner said he fitted the muzzle to prevent the dog from attacking pedestrians.

That's one approach. The other is taking out "pet owner responsibility insurance", currently only available for dogs in the major cities through China Pacific Insurance Co. It covers compensation claims should your dog bite someone. Premiums range from 20 to 100 yuan ($2.5-12) a year. Du Bang Insurance offers similar cover, as well as for costs incurred if your pooch goes missing and you have to place an ad.

Guess that wouldn't be a problem for the white poodle in my neighborhood whose ears and tail have been dyed hot pink. It looks mortified, and who can blame it.

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(China Daily 03/07/2007 page15)