A few times a week, Chen Xingzhi takes her dog to his favourite spot – the Yuan Dynasty Relics Park.
A retired businesswoman, Chen meets up with a group of friends at the park, with her one-year-old pup, Berber.
“Berber has lots of friends here,” Chen says.
“It’s a really nice environment. He loves it.”
Chen is among the growing group of Chinese who have chosen to enjoy the companionship of a dog.
The dog population in China is growing, but dog owners like Chen are uncertain whether the countries busy metropolises will be a good place for their pets.
The co-founder of the International Centre for Vetrinary Services (ICVS), Mary Peng believes that the conditions for owning a dog are improving in China’s major cities, including Beijing.
“There are regulations about the size of dogs, but overall Beijing has generally become very dog-friendly. Beijing is on the forefront,” she says.
“But Beijing is not representative of the whole country, it is the exception.”
Chen states that is was not very long ago that bringing a dog into a public place was banned, and the laws were strictly enforced.
“The government is much more tolerant than before,” she says.
“Previously, they didn’t allow dogs in parks like this.”
The low tolerance for dogs in the past is strongly linked with health concerns, explains Peng.
“There was a ban on dogs for many years after the ‘cultural revolution’ (1966-1976). Dogs were the primary carrier of rabies, and that was a major public health issue,” Peng says.
“You couldn’t have dogs for many years. You started to see dogs again in the early 1990s.”
Even though it has been two decades since authorities have relaxed about bans on dog ownership, many Chinese citizens continue to have animosity for dogs for fear of disease.
Despite the common fear amongst some Chinese people, many Beijing residents are not allowing the fear of infection discourage them from owning a dog.
Xian Hui, a resident of Beijing, believes that most people’s fear of dogs is unwarranted. Since adopting his three-year-old golden retriever, Tiger, Hui states he has never had any aggression problems or health concerns.
“Dogs are generally friendly creatures. We tend to treat Tiger like a child that can’t talk but is nonetheless a member of our family,” Xian says.
“People who are afraid of dogs usually just don’t understand them.”
Xian usually takes Tiger for walks around his own neighborhood, but they do head over to the nearby Coolbaby dog park.
The Coolbaby dog park gives dogs a space to throw off their leashes and run around.
Coolbaby’s manager, Zhao Mangang believes Beijing, and other Chinese cities, should have more canine playgrounds.
“Personally, I don’t think there are enough dog parks in Beijing,” Zhao says.
“I think every district should have at least one.”
Coolbaby is the play area of choice for over 300 dog owners on the weekends. Zhao believes the popularity of the park shows the growing need for more dog parks.
Residents of another major city, Shanghai, are also in desperate need for more dog parks. Many seek an alternative by visiting office building courtyards, after business hours have passed.
Even Chinese restaurant and hotels are seeing the growing trend of dog ownership in China, and jumping on the band wagon.
Pudi Hotels, located in Shanghai, has opened it’s doors to pets, allowing dog owners to bring their pooch indoors. They also have a number of rooms available, specifically for people staying with their dogs. Though the hotel charges an extra fee for pets, dog owners don’t seem to mind.
“Guests love their pets and are willing to pay the rate,” she says.
“Sometimes they request that we serve their pets the same way we treat a human being.”
Aloft Beijing is another hotel chain that welcomes pet owners and their dogs.
“I think more people are treating their pets like a part of their family,” Aloft Beijing’s managing director Zhang Lei says.
“Our company did surveys that revealed many guests want to bring their pets along with them when they travel.”
Aloft has eleven other hotels, all across China. Each one is dog-friendly.
Even restaurants are welcoming dogs. The owners of Beijing’s Bylace Cupcakes explains that they are flexible when it comes to dogs.
“We let people with pets in all of our shops. Our only rule is that the animal be kept under control and away from the counter and food for sanitation purposes,” Bylace co-owner He Yong says.
“We understand the inconveniences that dog owners go through.”
Animal rights activist, Zhang Xiaqiu, believes China is on the right path. With dog-friendly hotels and restaurants popping up, as well as the push for more dog parks, Zhang believes this shows China is becoming a more dog-friendly place.
Like anything else, Zhang strongly believes that education is the key for China becoming more dog friendly.
“Dogs should always be leashed when entering public places,” Zhang says.
“Many people don’t spay or neuter their dogs, so sometimes they can be more aggressive.”
Peng strongly advises all pet owners to have their dogs spayed or neutered.
“Culturally, in China spaying and neutering an animal is considered strange and almost cruel,” she says.
Dogs that have not been spayed or neutered play a significant role in the growth of stray populations, and unfortunately can lead to rabies outbreaks since the stray dogs are not cared for.
Peng agrees that education will prove to be the best tool for improving dog ownership conditions in China.