Cats and dogs

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					Pets In The City
China has had a long gastronomic relationship with animals that are seen as pets in other parts of the world. Dogs, cats, turtles, snakes or mice are some of the delicacies often found around the dining tables of China. One thing is true though, China is experiencing a radical change in their relationship with animals and each day more and more families are welcoming pets into their lives. Dongguan is no exception to this phenomenon. Once you have committed yourself to bringing a pet into your home, you are in for what can be the most gratifying experiences in your life. However, is a grandiose, 120-pound Great Dane really the dog for you? How about a salt-water fish aquarium or a budgie, or a hamster? There are several factors to consider when getting a pet and most of them relate to your lifestyle. This refers to your available time and housing arrangements; these are the main factors determining which pet to get. While fish do not require that much day-to-day care,

by Fernando Munoz Bernal

a regular tank cleaning might take a good couple of hours. Giving your dog enough exercise might be a problem if you live in a garden where dogs are not allowed or even if you do not live near a park. Cats need special toys and mental stimulation; otherwise they might add a few unwanted ‘carved designs’ to your furniture. In other words, if you do not plan properly before getting your pet, they can become a real headache. For foreigners in Dongguan, other specifics ought to be considered before deciding on getting a pet. For example, how long will you stay in China? Are you willing to pay the expenses and go through the process of repatriation? Do you live in New World Garden for example, where pets are not allowed? Do you have someone to look after your pet when you go back home on your hard-earned holidays? These are just some of the things to mull over.

Cats and dogs
Emma was not given this chance. After only 18 months of having moved to Dongguan, Emma wasn’t exactly planning to become a cat owner. She did so, somewhat unenthusiastically, when her friend took Ellie out of her handbag. Emma recalls: “She was only a fur ball, all tired and stressed from her bus ride from Guangzhou”. She decided to keep her as she simply didn’t have the heart to let Ellie ride back to Guangzhou in that bag.

David plays fetch with La - La and Respol

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Emma relaxes at home with the majestic looking Ellie

Emma can tick on the list. She utters another warning: “whatever you do, do not cross her path when she is excited and blitzes off along her imaginary, furniture-based race-track!” But it’s not all difficult; Emma feels Ellie provides that home feeling that we all long for. She enjoys sitting in front of the TV and feeling Ellie brush past her legs or the back of her neck, or also when she curls up on her lap to get cuddles and maybe even purr a bit. These joys come relatively cheap. E m m a spends 70 RMB a month feed-

spayed in a month or so but she is uncertain as to where to take her for the operation. When she leaves town on business, she always arranges for a friend to stop by once a day and look after her feline; on that topic, she shared with us her friend’s tales: “I’ve heard that some people leave their pets at these vet shops when they travel. A few have come back to find out their perfectly healthy pet has contracted a disease or passed away”. Another dilemma is the fact that Emma does not anticipate staying in Dongguan forever, so finding a suitable foster home for her when the time comes is a matter of keeping her fingers crossed and wishing for the best. Also a life-long cat enthusiast, David Zhu recently settled in Dongguan. He grew up in Jiangsu accompanied by several cats that were brought by his parents, mainly because they were afraid of dogs. He says the key to owning a cat is to understand them and give them space: - “You have to stop doing whatever is annoying them before things get out of hand”. Not long ago, David had a change of heart; he now keeps two black Labradors. He justifies this saying: “unlike cats, dogs are closer to people, which I like”. He got La-La from a friend in Shenzhen 2 years ago and after she had puppies, he decided to keep Repsol, now almost a year old. David feels quite happy in Dongguan as

Though she is not new to having pets, having grown up in Ireland among cats, dogs, horses and whatnot; she does feel that having pets in Dongguan is a challenging endeavor. “I confess that Ellie is hard to live with” she says, “either because she is young or simply because she’s a ‘house’ cat that doesn’t get enough exercise”. She even accepts that her full-time job does not help much in that department. The results speak for themselves. In only 4 months, Ellie already scores high in the damage scale: the sofa, the washroom, the coffee table, every single drinking glass, and an undetermined number of plucked clothes are just a few items

“whatever you do, do not cross her path when she is excited and blitzes off along her imaginary, furniture-based race-track!”
ing her with Whiskas dry food and other 50 RMB buying litter box pellets, both of which are easily available at any large supermarket in Dongguan. Though Ellie doesn’t normally wander outside her apartment, Emma worries about veterinary care. She is planning to have her he feels the city is much friendlier towards dogs than Shenzhen. He appreciates the many open green spaces where he can take his dogs for their daily exercise routine, with Fuling Reservoir in Liaobu being their favorite spot, despite the 20-minute drive.

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These outings not only allow his dogs to stay in shape but are an excellent opportunity to socialize, which he thinks makes them better companions. “Socializing from an early age is advantageous in many ways” – he says – “puppies learn to interact with other people, other animals; they get used to crowds, their leash and collar, and also to car rides”.

At your own expense
Legal matters are to be kept in mind, and dog registration is first on that list. Though David registered his dogs in Shenzhen for 1,000 RMB each, he must register them again here in Dongguan because dogs are controlled locally, not at a national level. This time it will be 500 RMB per dog. The easiest way to avoid registration expenses, according to the top legislative body for China – the National People’s Congress (NPC) – is to have a dog spayed or neutered; this means you should have your dog registered to comply with municipal mandates on animal population control, but you won’t have to pay. On this topic, David has some words of advice: “remember that rabies is a real threat in China so if your dog attacks someone, you and the victim are left facing a gruesome negotiation process in which there are legitimate health concerns and unclear legal parameters”. Keeping a dog can be relatively expensive. David spent 1,000 RMB when he first registered each dog, and was paying 500 RMB yearly renewal fee per dog when he was in Shenzhen. Vaccinations cost around 450 RMB for the full cycle (3 shots plus rabies). On a monthly basis, he spends around 500 RMB feeding his highenergy Labs, though he complains that dog chow is more expensive in Dongguan. Some of the commercial brands available are Pedigree, Eukanuba and Bridge, though David also criticizes the short list of food options in the city.

Canine concerns
Another drawback to having a dog in Dongguan is veterinary care. “In Shenzhen, doctors are trustworthy, here I don’t trust vets, and so I resorted to asking the vets in Shenzhen and take care of things myself. Everything! From vaccines to skin problems, I deal with it.” He recalls one vet who promised his friend to cure his puppy’s distemper with herbal tea. David also mentioned a despicable practice in the city – puppy mills and their “one-week dogs”, as the locals call them. He says: “These shops often keep puppies hungry so when the future owner comes close, they seem ‘happy and perky’ when in fact; they are just hoping to get some food. These dogs don’t make it past a week after being purchased, hence the name”. Though puppy mills are an awful fact, there are also several respectable breeders in the city. Mrs. Yan Ling and her husband started breeding purebreds in a farm on the outskirts of the city, some 15 years ago. Back then they bred Shih Tzu, Collies, Dobermans, Schnauzers, Chow Chows, and Cocker Spaniels but after 5 years, their land was repossessed by the local government and they stopped large-scale breeding. Back then, dogs were kept as pets only by the rich and wealthy of Dongguan, a Pekinese puppy could easily cost 10,000 RMB back then, while nowadays 500 RMB is a reasonable price. In earlier years, purebred dogs were kept as a symbol of wealth, status and even Westernization.

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Mrs. Yan shared a few other details about the changes in pet-ownership trends in Dongguan. She says “The boom in pet-ownership is a reflection on the increased available income of the middle-class in Dongguan today. We mostly sell puppies to young up-and-coming couples who are looking for companionship for themselves or their parents”.

There seems to be a huge void in the city regarding proper veterinary care which in turn means there is a real business opportunity here! So, if you plan to get a dog, be wise. The weather conditions in Dongguan, with its sweltering summers and chilly winters, are a cue not to get a heavily furred pooch (i.e.: Great Pyrenean or Tibetan Mastiff) or to get puppies around

“when a puppy gets sick and the vet is able to heal him, then he gets all the credit; when things don’t go well, they blame the pet shop”.
The sale of toys, cages, clothes and other pet related products go hand-in-hand with the boom in ownership. She also feels customers are becoming more discerning and concerned about the general health of the puppy and strongly recommends having the puppy checked for distemper and parvovirus before closing the deal. Mrs. Yan has her own perspective on vets in the city, she feels that “when a puppy gets sick and the vet is able to heal him, then he gets all the credit; when things don’t go well, they blame the pet shop”. Christmas time. Some breeds are emotionally draining, loudly requesting every bit of attention they can squeeze out of you; so if this is not your cup of tea, avoid Poodle, Chihuahua, Pekinese and the like. As one would expect, mixed dogs and local breeds are easier to find at pet shops and they seem to cope better with the heavily viral environment of Dongguan.

Ms. Yan shows great care and concern for every dog she breeds

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Auspicious scales, lucky sales
Birds are another popular pet, both locally and all over China. Said to be the first animals kept as pets by Chinese, we were fortunate to have witnessed an ancient traditional event that has been preserved here in Dongguan: a bird singing ‘competition’. It is possible to be a spectator in most parks around the city, but you won’t find them easily. The owners bring their birds in cloth-covered cages to prevent stressing them during the journey and seek secluded areas where there are few passers-by. You usually find them in small groups of enthusiast who gather early in the morning or late in the afternoon to ‘compete’. They usually uncover one cage at a time and listen to each bird’s performance; this is a sui generis competition where there are no referees and differences of opinion are usually settled over cigarette smoke. If you have a chance to see one of these, remember to never approach the cages without the owner’s permission and for everyone’s enjoyment, as when attending a Grand Opera, please remain as quiet as possible – mobile phone included.

The most common fish in these ponds are Arowana, Arhat, and Red Dragon. These species can costs up to 10,000 RMB per fish! When the first Taiwanese factories opened in the city some 20 years ago, this was the best line of business in the industry. So next time you see one of these ponds, take a minute to have a look and do the math to figure out how important this Chinese tradition is. Not exactly along the lines of keeping fish is the Chinese New Year traditional feast, which must include several fish dishes. Mrs. Yan explains that “the Chinese pronunciation of fish (鱼) is similar to that of abundance (裕 ). But there are other traditions that spin the business, as well. For example, Chinese animal signs (determined by your birth year), account for brief booms in the sales of certain species. Mrs. Yan said that before 2007 (the Year of the Pig), she could easily sell piglets for 125 RMB; this year she has had trouble buying them for 250 RMB. So, be smart and get your pet rat today before the 2008 Chinese New Year skyrockets prices!

Chinese animal signs (determined by your birth year), account for brief booms in the sales of certain species.
In Dongguan, and all over China for that matter, other animals are kept not as actually pets, but as symbols of wealth and good fortune. Mrs. Yan mentioned that “in traditional Chinese Feng Shui, a pond in your house or business is good omen that attracts and keeps fortune. The Feng Shui Master will place the pond in a specific place and then suggest the kind of fish to populate it with”. But before you go grab that spade and break the tiles in your living room, you should know that to attract fortune, you must spend a fortune first.

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