China Daily (Canada) - - HOLIDAY -

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@ chi­


Zhang Xiaoyuan feeds two en­trusted dogs at her depart­ment in Bei­jing.

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