China’s economy and middle class is still growing and with it a new industry is booming — pet owners spending billions on their dogs. People are not only spending on luxury items and services, large dogs that seen as status symbols are selling for as much as $1 million. But the boom in pet ownership has come with severe consequences. The exotic pet trade has also come to China and with it has come threats to the environment and the population.
About 7 percent of Chinese homes now have a dog and 2 percent have a cat but this figure is expected to skyrocket. The pet care industry is expected grow over the next five years by 43 percent to 13.5 billion yuan, or $2.2 billion, according to the research firm Euromonitor.
Pet food companies like Purina are introducing new food offerings and these has been a large rise in specialty services for dogs. These range from acupuncture, herbal remedies, perms and fur dyes to make canines look like pandas or lions and even dog yoga or “doga”. Pet insurance has also taken off. The Chinese media reported last month that the state insurer PICC began offering pet insurance policies that cost as much $550 a year.
Large dogs have especially come into fashion in Hong Kong and some breeds are considered symbols of prosperity and highly coveted. These include Siberian Huskies, German Shepherds, Vizslas and Tibetan Mastiffs.
According to Sally Andersen, founder of Hong Kong Dog Rescue, “People who have say, a St. Bernard — you can see these people strutting around, so proud they have this dog.”
Real estate is extremely expensive in the city of seven million people and owning a large dog makes the statement that you can afford a luxurious home. “It’s like buying a designer label; it’s a status thing. It makes them feel good in the same way that men like to drive Ferraris and Maseratis.”
But with all this new attention being given to dogs, exotic pets have created a darker side to the new ownership craze. Non-native reptiles have proven to be dangerous to the environment as well as the human population. The Bejing Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau reported a 697.3 percent increase in packages containing live species.
“They may contend with our native species for resources,” said Tian Jie, head of the National Medical Vector Monitoring Center. “They mate with the native species and create hybrids that threaten the ecosystem. This could eventually develop into serious consequences.”
Endangering the environment this a long term aftereffect of non-native species, but more immediately these animals are threatening their owners. Children as young as four have been bitten by pets with some even coming close to death.
“We often see kids bitten by snakes, spiders, scorpions and centipedes,” said Jiang Xue of Pia’s No. 44 Hospital’s Emergency Department. “They are dangerous animals. I think parents should really watch out.”