One of the interesting things about living in a country that has only recently shifted from a practical, survivalist mode of living (hello Great Leap Forward!) is that everything bourgeois is new and exciting. This includes keeping pets as pets and not as, say, nutrition or security guards.
One big trend in Shanghai is to have a dog as a pet. This sounds quite simple and normal, but like taro root pies at McDonalds and mung bean scones at Starbucks, the concept of dogs has been interpreted by local yuppies in ever-so slightly unexpected ways.
For one, they decorate them. In our building, on the ground floor, there is a dog spa where dogs go (or rather, are carried, tenderly) to get their fur dyed rainbow colours. This dog spa also sells dog clothes for all sizes. You can buy dresses, parkas, sweat suits, Converse sneakers, velvet high heels and sailor suits for your dog.
I have passed pairs of dogs on leashes trotting down the street clad in identical silk cocktail dresses, tails dyed hot pink.
For those who don’t dress and dye their dogs, there is still the salon. While smaller dogs tend to be subjected to costuming and colouring, larger dogs are frequently burdened with big blow-dried ’80s hairdos.
Huge puffy-furred malamutes who somehow fit into tiny 37th floor apartments are regularly seen on their thrice a day exposure to the outdoors, pulling their tiny owner along by the leash to mark their territory amongst the fake rocks and fake ponds and mostly real foliage of our complex. Poodles are seen with marvellously picked ‘fros and collies have had their requisite hundred strokes with a hairbrush. Their fur smells nice. I can’t help wondering how the dogs feel about all this.
On a more dignified note, cats seem to be left alone to do their own thing. They live independent lives, un-dyed, undressed, and have nice little bowls of kibble left out for them in parks and in building complexes and at the entrance to cracks in walls on the street which are known cat-homes.