In this Date Night China contribution, we look at animal affection, how pet ownership in China is changing, and how you can foster or adopt in Beijing and Shanghai with two organizations that are helping to get our furry friends off the streets and into fur-ever homes.
See the original posting on Date Night China's WeChat here.
All included graphics, except organizations' posters at bottom of post, were composed by Rochelle Beiersdorfer with pictures provided by SCAA and Lost Puppies.
Imagine this scenario: You and your partner breakup. Although you don’t live under the same roof, you’ve been together for a while and, having become such an integral part of their life, their furry roommate has even developed a very strong attachment to you. There wasn’t a night when they, the furry friend, wasn't snuggled up next to you on the couch while watching a movie or resting at your feet when you spent the night.
This is a messy breakup (when it is not!?) and every time you walk past your ex’s place now you feel a sickening twinge in your stomach and see a furry face in the window, expecting you to come give belly rubs, cuddles and treats.
After this breakup who do you miss more? The ex or their furry companion?
Six of twenty-three participants in a SurveyMonkey questionnaire said that they would miss their past partner’s animal companion more than the ex. Even though this is a really small percentage (only 26%), it does make sense. There’s just something special about animal affection.
From dogs’ playful barks and wagging tails, to cats’ purrs and cuddles, to even birds’ affectionate chirps, whistles and nibbles, love from an animal is different. It’s pure. “It is one of the purest things you can experience,” says Kelly an English Lecturer in Shanghai and a foster at Second Chance Animal Aid (SCAA), “they don’t have an ulterior motive.”
Research done in behaviorism and other social science fields show that the affection a pet has towards its human caregiver is genuine and unconditional. Anecdotes of dogs diligently waiting for their owners, even after their owners’ death, or their empathy towards a distressed caregiver are common. According to an editorial in Psychology Today, dogs can feel basic emotions similar to what a human infant feels at the age of two to two-and-a-half years old. A dog is capable of feeling fear, happiness, disgust and love.
Dogs aren’t the only ones that are receptive to human emotion, cats are too. Research done in 2015 at Oakland University in Michigan (USA) examined how 12 cats reacted towards their owners’ and strangers’ emotional expressions. This study found that cats are more attentive to human emotions than previously thought.
When their owners were smiling, the 12 feline subjects were recorded to purr and give full body nudges more liberally, compared to when their owners were frowning. When it came to the strangers and their display of emotions, there was no discernable difference with how the cats responded, regardless of if the strangers were scowling or smiling.
“…all companion animals have shown they can be affectionate, playful, social, and strongly-bonded to their caregivers,” says Lee-Ann Armstrong, Executive Director at SCAA, when asked about if different animals show affection differently, “even within the same species, there are many differences in how an animal expresses their feelings that it’s impossible to generalize. Our pets are individuals much the same way we are.”
In China, fast-paced modernization has brought about many shifts in public perspective and political policy. Such shifts include the Ministry of Agriculture last spring declassifying dogs as livestock and the consumption of cat meat being banned in Shenzen. During this year’s national Two Sessions (全国两会), a proposal to punish anyone who dumps cats and dogs was presented by The Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) member Dai Junfeng, according to the South China Morning Post. If found guilty of animal abandonment, an individual’s credit score on China’s social credit system would drop.
With China’s modernization, the expansion of middle-class wealth has also cultivated in the last decade and, because of this, pet ownership has seen a steady uptick in popularity that doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. By next year, according to China Pet Market’s website, the number of pet dogs and cats is projected to exceed more than 136 million and 171 million, respectively.
“Pet ownership is a fairly new thing here,” states Alex Cukor, co-founder of Lost Puppies in Beijing, “…what I like seeing is this shift to a more dog-friendly culture. You’re seeing more dog-friendly restaurants and cafes, and specialty places where you can take your dog to a swimming pool or…to an agility course. Years ago, there weren’t really these resources. So, it’s really great to see the changes even over the last few years.”
One of the suspected reasons for the speedy growth in China’s pet ownership and perception shift is single individuals wanting a constant companion to combat loneliness.
An article by Dog’s Best Life outlines 5 reasons why adopting a dog after a breakup is mutually beneficial. Not only does it give a stray a home and you a reason to get out of the house, but it also gives you companionship, which, as a result, makes you happier. Spending time with an animal has been credited in many studies to lower a person’s cortisol levels, a stress hormone, and increase levels of serotonin. Serotonin is recognized to moderate a person’s mood.
“Having a reliable source of unconditional affection lifts anyone’s spirit.” says Lee-Ann Armstrong, when asked about her thoughts on the importance of animal affection, “if you’re feeling isolated, then caring for a well-matched companion animal is very motivating and rewarding.”
Throughout China you can find shelters, groups and non-profit organizations whose sole mission is to help stray animals find loving forever homes.
When it comes to potential pet caregivers in China wanting a dog, most would rather purchase a purebred from a pet shop instead of considering adopting a mixed breed, and getting potential pet owners to consider adopting instead of buying is a challenge that animal groups have to deal with frequently. “…the biggest challenge is people are pretty skeptical about mixed breed dogs making good pets,” states Auna Harris, Event Planner and foster at Lost Puppies, “a lot of it is just misinformation…people are worried about their health and they want a dog that’s healthy… they [mixed breeds] are just as healthy, sometimes they’re more healthy than even [pure] breeds.”
One organization helping to find homes for strays is Lost Puppies in Beijing. Formed in 2018, Lost Puppies’ focus is on rescuing stray dogs that would otherwise be homeless. With generous donations, like-minded partners and the voluntary efforts of dog-lovers throughout Beijing, they have so far rescued about 250 strays. Before rehoming, puppies are rehabilitated in nurturing environments and receive any needed vaccinations and medical treatment.
To become a foster home or a forever home with Lost Puppies the process starts the same. “…[for] both cases we have an application form on our website. Anyone who's interested goes and fills that out as a first step,” explains Alex Cukor, co-founder of Lost Puppies, “then, one of our volunteers gets in touch with them and schedules an interview so we can get a little bit more information. …[If] all looks good, we start trying to match them with a dog…”
When it comes to adopting, there is a two-week trial period to make sure that the adopter and the adoptee are a perfect, lifelong match. “At the end of the trial, we confirm that they actually want the dog, they sign an agreement and pay the adoption fee,” Alex continues, “the adoption fee goes 100 percent back to rescuing more dogs.”
In Shanghai, Second Chance Animal Aid (SCAA) has been around for close to two decades. With an overarching objective to rescue animals and give them the necessary care to thrive, SCAA has gotten more cats and dogs off the streets than they can keep track of.
Besides caregiving, SCAA also puts major focus on education and makes school visits to, as Lee-Ann Armstrong explains, “…[share] useful resources about pet care needs, community welfare challenges, the dangers of breeding & buying pets, and the benefits of a strong human-animal bond…”
Like with Lost Puppies, SCAA also relies on dedicated volunteers to foster and provide a nurturing environment for rescued cats and dogs while they await their forever homes.
One foster at SCAA is Kelly and, since relocating to Shanghai from Qufu, has fostered two cats, Zara (already adopted) and Illy (up for adoption). “I’ve always wanted to have my own cat but because I move so much and my work involves travel it would be unfair [to the cat],” says Kelly over WeChat, “fostering allows me to have a cat but without the commitment.”
She decided on fostering with SCAA because of a few factors, such as that SCAA is still small enough that fosters get to really have a relationship and get valuable support from the organization. Information about fostering along with the fostering application form can be found on SCAA’s website (www.scaashanghai.org).
When vetting adopters, SCAA’s Executive Director Lee-Ann says that they ask potential adopters to reflect on if they’re able to make a lifelong commitment. SCAA also asks that they demonstrate that they can fully take care of an addition to their family, because, as Lee-Ann highlights, “a pet is for life.” SCAA’s adoption policies and procedures are available on their website (www.scaashanghai.org).
After a few months of being lost in the depths of a broken heart, you decide to become a foster parent and start fostering a precocious Pekingese mix named Moli. After fostering Moli and finding it such a joy, you decide to adopt her. On one summer afternoon, while walking Moli down an alley to a puppy playdate, you see your ex with someone new. To your surprise, you don’t feel a sour lump in your throat or frantic butterflies in your stomach. Instead, you feel indifference and walk past without a second glance. Moli looks up at you with such unconditional love and anticipation of reaching the destination. You have your furry life partner now.
“…you don’t need a boyfriend or a girlfriend,” jokes Auna Harris during our WeChat conversation, “you just need a dog and your life will be fine.”
* For more information about Lost Puppies (Beijing) or Second Chance Animal Aid (SCAA; Shanghai), please visit their official websites, add their official WeChat accounts and attend one of the many events they host around Beijing and Shanghai, respectively.