Having a dog in China
When I tell people that I live in China, one of the first things they ask me is if I have eaten dog. It seems to be one of the things Chinese people are known for! Sometimes I have been asked how it is to have a dog here. Is it safe? Will people try to steal your dog to eat it? Do people look at your dog with hungry eyes? So I decided to write this post to explain how’s the life of a dog owner in China.
First of all, yes, some people eat dog meat in China. It is not so common as foreigners seem to believe, though. There are restaurants specializing in dog meat and there is an infamous dog meat festival in a city, but most restaurants don’t have it on the menu and I have never seen dog meat in the supermarkets. Dog is most commonly eaten in the north during winter, as it is a “hot” food. I have never tried it.
Having a pet dog is something of a novelty here. Traditionally, and like everywhere else, dogs were “workers” to be used in the countryside, to guard herds and property. The improvement in living conditions brought the desire to have pets at home. Many urban Chinese live in apartments with at least two bedrooms, when 30-40 years ago most families had to share a small room. Many people in cities have dogs now and the favourite breed in Suzhou is the mini poodle, particularly among young and middle age ladies.
In some cities like Beijing it is not allowed to have big dogs if you live within the 4th ring road. Here in Suzhou we don’t have those restrictions, but the truth is that many people feel uneasy around big dogs. Our dog, Nico, is a female golden retriever and a bit small for her breed, but many people are scared of her. This morning Nico wagged her tail at a toddler and his grandpa stood protectively between the kid and her. Sometimes when I am with Nico on the elevator the neighbours don’t want to get inside together, as if Nico would bite them or something. In fact, I have been asked many times: “Does it bite?”.
There have been reports about dogs being kidnapped and sold in the Yulin dog meat festival, but I think the risk is pretty low in big cities. To be sure, however, always walk your dog on a leash so it can’t get too far away from you. My neighbours’ husky can open the door himself and has run away on several occasions. Luckily he was always found with all his body parts intact! But people must have been pretty frightened at the sight of a wolf-looking huge dog wandering alone.
What about the daily necessities of a dog, like food? Most supermarkets sell dog food from international reputable brands. If your supermarket doesn’t have, Taobao is what you need. You can find anything there, from food and snacks to bed, clothes and medicines.
In big cities you will also have no problem finding a reputable vet. In Suzhou we have been to 3 or 4 pet hospitals and all looked acceptably hygienic and with caring staff. Nico had surgery a couple of months ago and had to stay in the hospital for 2 weeks. The bill was not exactly cheap, but the surgery was very successful and she is as good as new now (she had a lump of half a kilo extracted from her hind leg). We can definitely recommend dr. Miao in the Petway hospital. The nurses were all very nice and I think Nico even had fun during her stay, with so many animals and people going around all day and she being able to steal food from others when no one was looking.
Also, if you don’t want to bathe your dog at home, there are lots of dog showering and furdressing places. Prices in Suzhou are around 80-100 RMB for a golden retriever sized dog. Nico goes to take a bath once every two weeks.
So, yes, it’s possible and in fact very easy to have a dog in China! Well, if you live in a big city. Smaller places might not be there yet!