With an aging population and more money to spend than ever before, China is seeing a boom in pet ownership. Some couples are opting for pets over parenthood while others are choosing to adopt pets to fill the empty nest after their children grow up and move out. The result is a 30 percent growth in Chinese pet ownership in the past 12 years and a billion-dollar increase in pet care spending, reports Bloomberg.
The spending increase, however, isn’t just because more middle-class Chinese residents are choosing to add furry members to their families, but that they’re also opting for more expensive pet care. From elaborate dye jobs, to shelling out for expensive life-saving surgery, pet owners in China are giving their animal companions a much higher quality of life.
Cradle of canine life
Perhaps it’s no surprise that the Chinese are rediscovering dog ownership, since studies indicate that the domesticated dog may in fact originate from Asia. According to Dr. Peter Savolainen of the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, every domesticated dog in the world today may in fact originate from one small area south of China's Yangtze River.
Savolainen looked at DNA taken from male dogs from all over the world. While much of the dog’s genetic makeup is universal, only this small region represents the full range of canine DNA diversity. Because of this, Savolainen believes that southern China was where humans most likely first domesticated the wolf, leading eventually to the emergence of today’s domestic dog.
A wrinkle in time
But apart from possibly being the cradle of civilization of the dog world, China has brought us many beloved breeds of their own. Take the wrinkly ragamuffin Shar-pei, according to the American Kennel Club, it was bred in China as far back as the Han Dynasty – around 200 BC – to serve many purposes on the farm, from guard dog duty to catching vermin. The breed has a unique coat – rough and short – which is where it gets its name: shar-pei translates to “sand-skin.”
Then there’s the Chinese Crested, a breed that accompanied Chinese mariners as they sailed forth on their voyages and may have even been used to hunt vermin on board in an effort to stave off the plague. The noble Pekingese, also known in North America as Pekinese, was believed sacred in Ancient China, such that only royalty were allowed to own the breed – and death was the punishment for anyone who dared try to steal such an animal.
Dogs in China have come a long way from a time when they were basically banned by the Communist Party for being a bourgeois extravagance. For a pet lover, it’s great to know that the country that gave us the Shar-Pei, the Shih Tzu, the Pekingese and perhaps even the domestic dog itself is once again reaping the benefits of man’s best friend.