An Introduction to Pet Ownership in China

             Domestic pets in China are slowly becoming the “in” thing, especially for middle-class city dwellers.  During the past 15 years, with China opening up to the outside world and incomes on the rise for educated professionals, people have started to turn to pets as something cute to show off to friends and neighbors.   While it’s true that more and more pet owners are becoming aware of the responsibility placed upon them to take care of their animals, a majority still do not understand how to raise pets or give them a healthy life. 

            The number of pets in China is difficult to estimate because many don’t register them but sources estimate 26 million dogs and about 58 million cats comprise China’s pet ownership world.  (In the States, the stats given are 74 million for dogs and 90 million for cats.)  However, only 3 % of all pets in the country are vaccinated, meaning that many die very early from diseases such as distemper, hepatitis and parvo for canines, or feline luekemia for cats.  Rabies is likewise a problem in China.  The threat of rabies is especially prevalent in the northern provinces where every year over 2,300 human rabies deaths are reported due to dog bites.  Chinese just don’t understand the necessity of having vaccinations, can’t afford vaccinations or don’t have access to a veterinarian in their area.  Most people buy medication for a sick pet in a pharmacy and assume this is likewise good for the animal.  While it is true that many of our medications can cross over to the animal world, animals need proper diagnosis for this from a qualified veterinarian professional, which is yet another problem in China. 

           True, the number of small animal vets in China is more today than 15 years ago but animal knowledge by veterinarians is very limited.  By our overseas standards, a majority of vets here are not well-qualified, with some only studying as apprentices under a licensed vet who has only had 2 to 4 years of college at agricultural schools.  A majority of DVMs don’t even know that chocolate is poison to dogs or chicken bones can cause choking due to splintering.  Operations by many Chinese animal doctors are carried out under unsanitary conditions, with the animals sometimes dying due to infection.  Operations also have been known to take place without the animal being fully anesthetized.  Not using anesthesia, but a local “woozy” numbing injection,   is a common practice in a majority of veterinarian clinics.  And, yes, the animal feels everything. (Not a pretty picture.)

          Rarely do owners in China have pets spayed or neutered as it’s thought to be cruel to the animal, isn’t common practice or just costs too much.  However, it’s just as well this is a prevalent attitude because botched spayings and neutering, with disastrous results, are not uncommon here.  I’ve read that some cat de-clawing by Chinese vets leads to amputation of the limbs because of infection. 

         Walking the streets of Chengdu, you will  see uncared for cats and mutts roaming the streets looking for food. They trot about with worn collars and are discards from people who didn’t realize pets were such a chore.  Puppies and kittens are cute when bought for a dollar or two at back alley weekend street markets, but taking care of them is another story.  Since the cost to purchase a common mixed-breed pet is so low, irresponsible Chinese owners let the animal die from disease, neglect, or  let it go on the street to fend for itself.   

        Not all is doom and gloom, however.  There are a number of animal rescue services that are now starting to emerge in the bigger cities, most of them  international branch organizations for aiding animals.  Articles in newspapers and pet magazines help to educate the public about proper animal care.   TV news reports, shows and radio programs  devoted to animal care are also starting to make it into the public awareness scene.  And there are Chinese who do take very good care of their animals.  Those in my apartment complex are extremely loving and responsible pet owners, as am I for Little Flower.

        But while the owners in my apartment complex bought their healthy animals from breeders, my half-Chi / half-terrier mixed  pooch was a pity save.  She would never have lived longer than a few weeks under the conditions I saw her in 6 years ago in the sadly operated pet shop I bought her from here in Chengdu. Forking over the 300 yuan ($37) for her was only regrettable because it went into the hands of the disreputable owners. It was a lot of work, care and time on my part to get her healthy.  I know a normal Chinese person would never have bothered putting so much effort, or money, into such a venture for a mere dog but that’s what pet responsibility is all about. 

        Do I regret my decision for saving her?  Absolutely not. She has brought great joy to my life and to the lives of many others.  As a Christian, I believe God presents to us little missions all the time, whether those mini-missions be for humankind, tackling serious issues for the betterment of our world or taking care of lost living things.  Little Flower was just another God-path set before me and I took it, with many blessed results on a daily basis. 

        And having said that, look forward to my next blog entry which will introduce you to foster family member Xiao Gui (she-ow gweh), or Little Ghost, another little God-sent mission that stumbled into my lap, or rather across my path, a few days ago.   Now that’s a story!  








About connieinchina

I have been in the Asia region for 30 years as an English language teacher. 28 of those have been spent with the Amity Foundation, a Chinese NGO that works in all areas of development for the Chinese people. Amity teachers are placed at small colleges throughout China as instructors of English language majors in the education field. In other words, my students will one day be English teachers themselves in their small villages or towns once they graduate. Currently, this is my 13th year in Luzhou Vocational and Technical College. The college is located in Luzhou city (loo-joe), Sichuan Province, a metropolis of 5 million people located next to the Yangtze River .
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