It's interesting that this has caused a huge outcry, and a sign of changing attitudes. During the Cultural Revolution, owning a pet was considered capitalist decadence. But recently, having a dog particularly has become a status symbol, and a whole mini-industry has sprung up for wealthy dog owners. I kid you not — in China nowadays there are fashion designers for dog clothes, canine beauty salons and even doggy cemeteries for sadly deceased furry friends.
When I lived in Beijing, I lived in what passed as a pretty swanky apartment block with landscaped gardens. Most of the other residents were relatively well-off and there were a ridiculous number of dog owners living in the compound, almost all of whom seemed to favor dogs of the yappy nip-your-ankles kind.
The one case that sticks in my mind was the fifty-something woman who'd strut around proudly with her little pooch. It normally had a pink ribbon tied around its neck and its claws painted the same color as its owners' toenails.
Northern Chinese winters are pretty cold and when it snowed, the evening dog walk would become something of a canine fashion show, with many of the dogs done up in tailored Burberry coats, fleece jackets etc.
I'm English, and I used to watch with outrage at the canine fashion atrocities being inflicted on these poor animals. And it seems many of these pooches have quite a wardrobe; over Chinese new year, dog clothing shops reported a spike in sales of red dog coats (wearing red is supposedly lucky) and dog coats in "traditional Chinese style" (I have no idea what this might be).
I never made it to a doggy beauty salon, but colleagues of mine went and reported that you could have your poodle dyed powder-pink from head to tail if it took your fancy. These salons offer all kinds of services ranging from pedicures, washing, blow-drying etc — the cost can be anything between a couple of U.S. dollars to around $50.
Owning a dog in China isn't particularly cheap, especially in cities where you have to pay between $75 and $150 for a registration certificate, and that's one of the reasons why it's become an urban status symbol.
I suppose it's also worth mentioning that given the one-child rule in cities, dogs are also seen as surrogate children in many cases. In the countryside, you do get stray dogs, but they're not generally very large. The exception to the rule is in Tibet and the Tibetan areas where there are packs of stray dogs, as well enormous scary dogs like mastiffs, trained to guard the nomads' tents, who bark and slaver quite terrifyingly whenever they see strangers, and occasionally bite as well.
It seems dogs aren't quite as popular in Shanghai as in Beijing — not sure why. Maybe it's because I live in a house in the old part of town and my neighbors live in even more cramped conditions, so they tend to favor songbirds rather than dogs.
I should just mention the reaction to the dog massacres quickly. Even the normally docile state-run press has been incredibly vocal. One example is the Legal Daily which called the slaughter a "crude, cold-blooded and lazy" response to rabies.
Oh, and one final thing: predictably, PETA is now calling for a boycott of Chinese products. And the Humane Society of the United States said yesterday that it will donate $100,000 to Chinese authorities to vaccinate dogs, if they halt the killings.