China doesn’t always get the best rap when it comes to pets and animal welfare. “Don’t eat any dogs!” a friend half-joked before my trip.
I went to China last month as a tourist, but my curiosity got the best of me. I wanted to know what it was like to have a pet in a country known for either eating or killing dogs and cats.
What I found surprised me. During my two-week trip, I ventured to Shanghai, Chongqing, Chengdu, Beijing, and Suzhou. While in Shanghai we stayed mostly in the financial district, so I didn’t see any pets. But after doing a little research, I was happy to find out that Shanghai actually offers the adoption option with Second Chance Animal Aid Shanghai.
It wasn’t until we journeyed to Chongqing that I really got a taste of what being a Chinese pet guardian is all about.
My first day in the city I saw this poodle walking around a shopping district on his hind legs. He had a giant grin on his face and seemed to enjoy the attention he was getting.
A lot of the dogs I saw in Chongqing were not on leashes. At first I thought they were strays, until I would hear the dog’s guardian shout from a distance. The dog would then return to his guardian’s side immediately. It was amazing how disciplined the animals were. They were able to navigate the busy sidewalks and crowded streets without getting hit or lost.
This is Xiao Bei (“little pearl”), my boyfriend’s aunt and uncle’s dog.
I had never seen eyes so big! She was adorable and very sweet. They live in a high-rise building, so I asked my boyfriend to ask his uncle if Xiao Bei ever goes outside. “Not too much, she knows how to use the toilet,” he told me. No wonder I didn’t see very many dogs outside—they never have to go out for potty breaks! In Chongqing, they don’t have toilets like we’re used to in the U.S. Most of them are fancy holes in the ground. They flush, but look like someone cut the bottom off an American toilet and put the seat on the ground. Xiao Bei is trained to just go into the bathroom and do her business over the toilet.
It was apparent how much my boyfriend’s family love Xiao Bei, and treat her like one of the family. She happily walked us back to our hotel, running around leash-less until she was called back.
Xiao Bei helped me see the happy side of pet care in China, but there’s also a not-so-happy side. While walking through an underground shopping area, I noticed the woman in front of me carrying two baskets. Inside were several puppies, stacked on top of each other. We followed her until she set the puppies down on the sidewalk, next to another crate bursting with young pups. My boyfriend informed me that the puppies are for sale—65 yuan a piece, which is around $10!
In short, China has made great strides when it comes to pets, but they also have a long way to go. Under Chairman Mao’s regime, dogs were banned for being too bourgeois. Now that the ban has been lifted, the popularity of pets in China has soared. Though in Beijing it is illegal to have a big dog and some cities enforce a one dog limit, pets are still widely popular throughout China and becoming more and more mainstream.