During the Spring Festival, hundreds of millions of people move around the country in order to spend this most important Chinese festival with their families. However, for pet owners, whose number has been increasing in recent years in China, it’s usually a time when they have to separate from their beloved animals, because in the country pets are not allowed to take public transport except airplanes. To find a nice, safe place for pets has become a headache for many.
Recently, there are more trendy platforms on the internet to help to solve such headaches, including an app called Xiaogouzaijia (little dogs at home) and a WeChat public account called Petsknow.
As China’s GDP per capita is expected to reach $10,000 by 2020, pets will become a big part for Chinese people’s life.
The business of pet-related goods and services is soaring in China, reaching about 100 billion yuan. Caring services have taken up the second largest part of the market, saysWang Danxue, founder of Shanghai-based Xiaogouzaijia.
Young people born after the 1990s have become a major consumer group, and they like traveling.
“In Shanghai, on average, a young person will go out for a short holiday one or two time a month,” she says. Such demands require more care services for pets.
Wang createdXiaogouzaijia because of her own miserable experience.
It happened during the Spring Festival about 10 years ago, when Wang, then a college student in Xiamen, was leaving for home. At that time, her female beagle named Corn was only 6 months old, so Wang sent the dog to the best pet shop in Xiamen. She paid in advance, about 2,000 yuan, for the one-month stay.
“She was in heat. After they locked her in the cage, she did not stop barking for three days until she lost her voice,” she said.
Then the pet shop moved the beagle upstairs so she would calm down without seeing somany other dogs. However, the beagle still ate very little. Wang called every day to ask about her situation, and she was always told “everything is fine”.
But one day, when she almost hung up, she heard a new staff member at the shop ask in a low voice: “Which is Corn?” Wang was shocked and immediately returned to Xiamen.
“When I first saw her in the cage, I was crushed. She had become so thin that I almost couldn’t recognize her. A staff member put her food in her plate, which was filled with her urine,” she says.
Corn lost 4 kilograms, getting down to only 8. In the first week after going home, she stayed in the couch all day long. “But as a beagle, she needs to walk 20 kilometers per day to consume her energy,” she says.
Since then, Wang has never sent any pet to a pet shop. She has been keeping three cats and one dog for years. When she needs to leave home for days, she asks her friends for help. “But what if they were busy or inconvenient? So there were four years during which I never left Xiamen for one day,” she says.
Her painful experience and the similar needs of her friends inspiredWang to develop an app to provide homestay services for pet owners. Families experienced in keeping pets can apply to provide services such as looking after pets, whose owners need to go out for days or months.
Through the online platform, pet owners can easily find suitable families for their pets. One can check the distance, the pictures of the families, and their reputation. The lowest payment for a small pet per day is 20 yuan and there is no upper limit, but usually entrusting a cat needs to pay 30 to 50 yuan a day and entrusting a dog 50 to 90 yuan a day depending on the size.
Created online in August 2015, the app has provided about 100,000homestay services for pet owners in 192 cities around China.
Most of the users choose to entrust their pets to a family because they don’t want their pets to be locked in cages. In a home-stay family, pets can play with each other in a bigger space.
“I can see the videos of my cat every day, which is really comforting,” says Liang Bing, a 26-year-old engineer, who has a 4-year-old British shorthair.
Care Center for Cats and Dogs in Beijing’s Daxing district, run by 32-yearold Zhang Xiaoyuan, is among the most popular home-stay families on the app. She started the service last June, and so far has taken inmorethan 150 cats and dogs.
She calls the dogs and cats “kids” and owners “parents”. Currently she has three dogs and four cats in the 140 square meters apartment. Three cats and one dog are her own.
“Spring Festival is a very busy time. We will send our own cats to our parents’ home, making room for cats that will be separated according to sex,” she says, holding a brown teddy bear dog in her arms, which has stayed with her for two weeks. Another entrusted gray teddy is walking around her.
A Scottish fold cat, having stayed here for nearly two months, is crouching on the washing machine in a separate room. “He often comes here because his mother, an internet celebrity, is very busy, going on business trips all the time,” she says.
“Because of the services, I’ve met many people from all walks of life. It’s so interesting,” she says.
Before a cat or a dog is sent here, Zhang will send the owners a form to fill out. “It’s about the infections or diseases of cats and dogs. If the pets are ill, we cannot have them,” she says.
Once, an owner of two chihuahuas did not tell her that her dogs caught a cold until arriving at the door.
“I could not receive the dogs. Even if older dogs are stronger against the virus, it’s still too risky for them, so I offered to visit the twodogsat theirownhomefour times a day to feed them medicine and food and walk them. Luckily, we live not far from each other,” she says.
If certain accidents happen during the home-stay period, the platform will help to solve the disputes.
Once a dog staying with a family in Xiamen swallowed a sock before going back home. Nobody knew it. Learning about the situation after examining the dog in hospital, Xiaogouzaijia paid for the 1,000-yuan treatment. The company cooperates with 500 pet hospitals around the country.
Zhang and her husband moved back from South China in May last year, before they officially started their petservice business. They also open an online store on Taobao to sell animal food they make themselves.
“I make about 4,000 yuan a month by looking after pets. It’s not a lot but I’m happy to help other people,” she says.
Zhang is exactly what Wang calls a real animal lover, who offer services not only to make money but because she enjoys taking care of pets when their owners are absent and forming a community to help each other. “That is my goal for the platform,” Wang says.
Zhang Jingtao cofounded Beijing Petsknow Technology Co Ltd in September, which has cooperated with more than 1,000 pet hospitals and shops in Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai. The company has aWeChat public account called Petsknow.
Through the account, its 100,000 users can make an appointment with a vet or order pet services such as pet baths, grooming and pet care, and pay in advance.
“We want to recommend excellent pet shops to pet owners. When you choose the breed of your pet and the service you need, you will see all shops that match your demand, such as the closest one and the ones with a good reputation,” he says.
He says it’s difficult to entrust one’s pet to the care of others due to the inconvenience of traveling with it. Many hotels are not pet friendly, either.
“The platform improves our efficiency greatly. I can adjust the prices and make arrangement in advance in accordance with our daily agenda,” says Zhang Rui, 28, owner of RoudingMamaPet Shop in Beijing’s Fangzhuang area.
It’s one of the fewpet shops that take care of dogs in a free-rangeway. Five or six dogs share a 15-square-meter room and play toys together. Zhang and her staff look after the dogs 24/7, with a camera in the room for surveillance.
She only receives small dogs or puppies of medium-sized breeds, which don’t like to fight, at a cost of 65 yuan per day. The dogs should already have all necessary vaccines and have no skin diseases.
She observes their characters on the first day and separates those who like to fight with each other. Everyday, they disinfect the place and articles for use and walk the dogs and ensure that the dogs eat only their own food and snacks.
“It takes a lot of manpower to do so, costing much energy. You have to satisfy their emotional needs by playing with them. It’s essential to rent a big place and decorate it with soundproof materials,” she says.
“If you simply keep them separately in cages, you don’t have to worry that they fight or scramble for snacks and toys.” But Zhang Rui is not running a pet prison.
She says she feels connected to the dogs after getting along with them and can identify each dog according to their barks.
“At first, they are alert in a strange place and avoid me. Later, they would wag their tails with pleasure. I feel touched that some would recognize me the next time they come here.”
“It’s like a kindergarten where pet owners put their kids here. They tell us that what their dogs like or dislike. We send them short videos when we walk the dogs and play with them, so they can know about lives of their dogs. I also make some good friends.”
Contact the writer at yangyangs@ chinadaily.com.cn
Zhang Xiaoyuan feeds two entrusted dogs at her department in Beijing.