DOG GONE

宠物殡葬行业悄然兴起

The World of Chinese - - Contents - BY SUN JIAHUI (孙佳慧)

Once banned as bour­geois, pets are now so pop­u­lar in China that the in­dus­try is worth a stag­ger­ing 18.8 bil­lion USD. So it's lit­tle sur­prise that lux­u­ries such as pet fu­ner­als are al­ready mak­ing in­roads among an­i­mal lovers, al­though it's a devel­op­ment that's been greeted with hos­til­ity in some quar­ters

Li Chao has one life­long re­gret: Not bury­ing his best friend prop­erly. He’s been mak­ing up for it ever since.

Li re­mem­bers Jojo’s death vividly. A long-haired husky, she’d lived with Li for seven years and wit­nessed some of his most in­ti­mate

TEXT AND PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY LANCE CRAYON strug­gles, from bach­e­lor­hood to mar­riage. But one af­ter­noon in Oc­to­ber 2015, Jojo had an epilep­tic fit and died be­fore Li’s eyes. Li wept for sev­eral hours be­fore re­al­iz­ing he needed to do some­thing about Jojo’s re­mains.

Un­for­tu­nately, the cre­ma­tion ser­vices he con­tacted only added to his pain. “Their man­ner was cold and dis­tant. Ev­ery­thing was sim­ple and crude,” Li tells TWOC. “And the fi­nal price was higher than what we’d agreed on. I should have said goodbye to her in a much bet­ter way.” The heart­break­ing ex­pe­ri­ence mo­ti­vated Li to make a life-chang­ing de­ci­sion—he would open his own pet fu­neral ser­vice, to pro­vide the level of at­ten­tion and sym­pa­thy that he and his beloved Jojo had been de­nied.

Over the ob­jec­tions of his fam­ily, Li quit his well­paid job as a me­dia man­ager, and be­gan re­search­ing the mar­ket. A month later, he founded Joypets .

China’s pet fu­neral in­dus­try is on the verge of an ex­pected boom. Cit­ing the Na­tional Bu­reau of Statis­tics of China, a 2016 Forbes re­port on to over­all pet in­dus­try—cur­rently val­ued at 130 bil­lion RMB (18.8 bil­lion USD) and climb­ing—noted that China ranked third glob­ally for dog own­er­ship, with 27.4 mil­lion pet dogs, com­pared to 55.3 mil­lion in the US and 35.7 mil­lion in Brazil (it’s no slouch when it comes to fe­lines, ei­ther: Chi­nese re­port­edly own 58.1 mil­lion cats). Bei­jing alone has 1.5 mil­lion reg­is­tered dogs, ac­cord­ing to the China Bei­jing Ken­nel Club, an or­ga­ni­za­tion man­aged by the lo­cal pub­lic se­cu­rity bu­reau. The club es­ti­mates that at least 200,000 pets die in Bei­jing ev­ery year, a huge po­ten­tial mar­ket for firms like Joypets.

Like most star­tups, Joypets had a hard time get­ting peo­ple’s at­ten­tion: His cus­tomers ei­ther didn’t know about his busi­ness, or didn’t think it nec­es­sary. But Li’s first cus­tomer proved to be a spe­cial case—a 35-kilo­gram golden re­triever, par­a­lyzed and suf­fer­ing from a tu­mor and se­vere bed­sores, whose owner was about to have him put down. When Li saw the dy­ing an­i­mal, he im­me­di­ately un­der­stood the need: “There was noth­ing more in his life but suf­fer­ing.”

“Faced with the death of their beloved pets, what peo­ple need is lis­ten­ing, car­ing, and pro­fes­sional ad­vice,” says Li. “They are very frag­ile emo­tion­ally, a tiny mis­take can cause a break­down. We must com­fort them from our heart, in­stead of go­ing through the pro­ce­dures me­chan­i­cally.” Since then, Li has ac­com­pa­nied many pet own­ers through euthana­sia. Swift and pain­less as the process is, see­ing the life drain from a pet never gets any eas­ier. “It’s tor­ture,” says Li. “Ev­ery time some­one calls for ad­vice, I ask very care­fully about the sit­u­a­tion, the rea­son why…wher­ever pos­si­ble, I’ll sug­gest keep­ing watch, keep­ing [the pet] com­pany, in­stead of turn­ing to mercy killing im­me­di­ately.”

Dao­dao was one whose fate Li de­layed. The husky was suf­fer­ing from in­cur­able and painful bone can­cer, but strug­gled in­tensely when taken to be put down, bark­ing mourn­fully. The plan was shelved; Dao­dao’s own­ers spent an­other three days with their pet be­fore the an­i­mal died peace­fully at home.

To date, Joypets has served more than 1,000 clients. For cre­ma­tion ser­vices, the com­pany charges be­tween 400 RMB to 600 RMB per an­i­mal—and also of­fers a taxi­dermy and “sou­venir” al­ter­na­tives, in which cre­mated re­mains are con­verted into ob­jects such as jew­elry.

Yet most dead pets—about nine in 10—are still not dis­posed of prop­erly or legally. Shen Rui­hong, sec­re­tary gen­eral of the China Bei­jing Ken­nel Club, told the Bei­jing Evening News that the ma­jor­ity of own­ers bury their own pets, ei­ther in their res­i­dence’s gar­den or the woods or sub­urbs; a few sim­ply leave them in trash bins, the body con­cealed in a plas­tic bag.

Ac­cord­ing to China’s Law on An­i­mal Epi­demic Pre­ven­tion and Tech­ni­cal Stan­dards for Safety Dis­posal of An­i­mals Dead from Ill­ness, is­sued by the De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture, an­i­mals that die of dis­ease should be dis­posed with safely reg­u­lated meth­ods, such as burn­ing, va­por­iz­ing, or bury­ing in des­ig­nated lo­ca­tions. “In prac­tice, those who aban­don their dead pets in the garbage or ca­su­ally bury the re­mains are rarely pun­ished,” Shen told the Bei­jing Evening News. “It’s dif­fi­cult to reg­u­late pet fu­ner­als.”

AN­I­MALS THAT DIE OF DIS­EASE SHOULD BE DIS­POSED WITH SAFELY REG­U­LATED METH­ODS BUT THOSE WHO CA­SU­ALLY BURY THE RE­MAINS ARE RARELY PUN­ISHED

“Im­proper burial may not only break the law, but also af­fect neigh­bors,” says Li. “And the own­ers have to worry that the dead pets could be dug up.” He once re­ceived a tear­ful phone call at mid­night from a young woman who feared the cat she’d re­cently buried in the yard of her apart­ment com­plex was about to be ex­ca­vated as part of a build­ing re­de­vel­op­ment project.

The in­ci­dent brought home the is­sue for Li. “Cur­rently, the prob­lem [of im­proper burial and corpse dis­posal] is still se­ri­ous. It’s partly be­cause of the cost, but the main rea­son is lack of in­for­ma­tion. Even some pet store op­er­a­tors don’t know the ex­is­tence of the pet fu­neral in­dus­try. Many of our clients tell us they never knew a pet could be cre­mated be­fore.”

Oth­ers have, per­haps, em­braced the in­dus­try a lit­tle too en­thu­si­as­ti­cally. In 2015, a lav­ish fu­neral in Shang­hai, re­plete with a wake, pro­fes­sional mourners, and limou­sine-chauf­feured lux­ury cof­fin, pro­voked a va­ri­ety of ou­traged com­ments af­ter state me­dia out­lets shared the pic­tures on­line. A search for “pet fu­neral” on Taobao, China’s largest e-com­merce plat­form, brings up dozens of re­sults for post­mortem ser­vices, with costs rang­ing from hun­dreds to thou­sands of RMB. In March, Bei­jing Youth Daily re­ported on the ex­is­tence of sev­eral

EVEN SOME PET STORE OP­ER­A­TORS DON'T KNOW THE EX­IS­TENCE OF THE PET FU­NERAL IN­DUS­TRY. MANY OF OUR CLIENTS TELL US THEY NEVER KNEW A PET COULD BE CRE­MATED BE­FORE

up­scale pet ceme­ter­ies, where plots can cost up to 10,000 RMB.

Joypets doesn’t of­fer ceme­tery plots or burial ser­vices. The most ex­pen­sive fu­neral Li has or­ga­nized was a memo­rial ser­vice for a dog, with about 20 rel­a­tives and friends at­tend­ing, which cost 5,000 RMB. “We op­pose over-con­sump­tion,” says Li, “The as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween post-mortem pet care and sky-high burial prices re­sults from some bi­ased me­dia re­ports. That’s a stereo­type. The pet fu­neral is an in­dus­try, and burial is just one form of it, which the gov­ern­ment and most prac­ti­tion­ers don’t ad­vo­cate.”

In­stead Joypets, along­side sev­eral other com­pa­nies, pro­vides eco­log­i­cal al­ter­na­tives, such as turn­ing re­mains into fer­til­izer that can be used to grow a houseplant, or even stuff­ing an an­i­mal, a pro­ce­dure that Li is re­luc­tant to dis­cuss for fear of a pub­lic back­lash. (He as­sures TWOC the pro­ce­dure is not only safe but environmentally friendly, and the taxi­dermy can last 30 to 50 years.)

Only a tiny per­cent­age of clients choose to stuff their pets, in­clud­ing a “very fa­mous pop diva,” but, Li says, they usually do it for a per­sonal rea­son. He re­called a client whose Ger­man Shep­herd had scared away an in­truder who broke into the fam­ily home. “When the dog died of old age, they wanted to keep their heroic friend with them for­ever,” says Li. “Dif­fer­ent pets have dif­fer­ent sto­ries in dif­fer­ent fam­i­lies…for some, a pet is a fam­ily mem­ber, and [taxi­dermy] makes them feel as if their pet never left.”

De­spite the place most pets holds in peo­ple’s hearts, many of his friends dis­ap­prove of Li’s ca­reer, say­ing the in­dus­try is frag­ile, and vul­ner­a­ble to mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion and lack of ac­cep­tance. “Some­times, a piece of neg­a­tive re­port­ing can in­cur a lot of back­lash to­ward us. Some feel that it’s com­pletely in­ap­pro­pri­ate to pro­mote pet fu­ner­als”—since, even for hu­mans, burial re­sources are scarce, and China’s fu­neral in­dus­try presents an im­per­sonal and of­ten coldly me­chan­i­cal face—“other ex­trem­ists even claim dogs are sup­posed to be

SEV­ERAL COM­PA­NIES PRO­VIDE ECO­LOG­I­CAL AL­TER­NA­TIVES, SUCH AS TURN­ING RE­MAINS INTO FER­TIL­IZER THAT CAN FEED A HOUSEPLANT

eaten, and don’t de­serve any kind of fu­neral at all; some con­sider us as a heart­less in­dus­try mak­ing ‘black money.’ Our web­site has been hacked many times.”

There are many prob­lems in the in­dus­try, Li agrees, in­clud­ing a lack of clear pro­ce­dures and the rel­a­tively poor qual­ity of some fa­cil­i­ties and ser­vices, par­tic­u­larly com­pared with those in Hong Kong, Tai­wan, and other de­vel­oped ar­eas. “But I know what I am do­ing and why I am do­ing it,” say Li. “Help­ing oth­ers see their pets off gives me a sense of pur­pose, es­pe­cially when I ex­pe­ri­enced all of it my­self. This in­dus­try is more com­pli­cated than I thought, and there is in­deed a long way to go. But it shouldn’t be re­garded as a shady busi­ness.”

“SOME EX­TREM­ISTS CLAIM DOGS ARE SUP­POSED TO BE EATEN, AND DON'T DE­SERVE A FU­NERAL; SOME CON­SIDER US AS A HEART­LESS IN­DUS­TRY MAK­ING ‘BLACK MONEY'”

Golden re­triever Maimai at­tends the fu­neral of his father Maiba, or Mav­er­ick

A pet cat is combed be­fore cre­ma­tion

Small dog Xiaox­iao is laid to rest at a pet ceme­tery in Wuhan in March

The elab­o­rate fu­neral of a Shang­hainese dog called Ir­win in 2015 sparked a back­lash

The ashes of Maiba are now stored in a pet ceme­tery

Ir­win's tragic pass­ing was lamented by a team of pro­fes­sional mourners

A stuffed pet ser­val, cour­tesy of Joypets

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