What we now designate as the territories of China are one of the areas where dogs self-evolved at least 15,000 years ago giving the world Asiastic dogs such as the Chow Chow and Shar Pei. The Chinese are not the only people in the word to take a utilitarian approach to dogs and they have served as many purposes in China over millennia as they have elsewhere – including being a source of food.
However, China has been undergoing rapid social change in recent decades with a wealthier population that is far more open to influence from the rest of the world than ever before.
This has had an effect on companion dog ownership as in all other areas of life, but the attitudes of the authorities have not caught up with the desire for many Chinese dog owners to see their dogs as family members. As in the rest of the world, dog ownership is big business; one indication of changing attitudes to dogs.
Bejing mandated that keeping dogs as companions was forbidden as recently as the 1980s and the effects of the horrific Cultural Revolution meant that keeping animals as companions was regarded as unacceptably bourgeois. All this is changing and, although just 5.7% of households owned a dog in 2019 (10% of the comparable number in the USA), the number is rising and it amounts to approximately 1.36 million dogs. China is also responsible for 20% of the world’s feral dog population.
Tensions between authorities and owners are still evident and, although some areas are bringing in welfare regulations and compulsory microchipping, Yunnan province, notorious for its new annual dog meat festival, mandated on November 13th that dogs must be kept indoors at all times in order to “promote civilised dog-raising habits”. Shanghai, Qingdao and Chengdu have strict one-dog per household policies and Huangshi bans the breeding of dogs larger than 17″ high – that’s about the height of a terrier.
Dog owners, many young, single and female, are not taking this lying down in spite of the fact that the mandate states that, after fining the owner for two violations, dogs will be seized and euthanised if the rules are violated three times. Social media has helped to promote the backlash so let us hope that the emphasis will be on education and responsible dog ownership rather than on causing greater welfare problems and death for dogs.