Date registered: Jan 2005
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RE: Tomorrow (29th) is the Benz's birthday
The Times January 28, 2006
Why taste for dogs is changing in China
From Jane Macartney in Beijing
MY CHOPSTICKS hovered over the cold starter. It looked appetising if highly spiced. Sliced dark meat, perhaps a touch fatty, marinated in ginger, garlic and Sichuan pepper.
The dish was dog Ă˘â‚¬â€ť signature cuisine of the Sour Fish Soup Household restaurant in one of BeijingĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s fashionable developments. With tomorrow marking the start of the Year of the Dog, the 11th animal in the Chinese twelve-year Chinese zodiac cycle, it seemed a perfect moment to try to understand the paradox of the Chinese relationship with dogs.
City dwellers are passionate about their pooches. Down alleys and in parks men and women, old and young, walk their Pekinese, Chihuahuas and Yorkies. Most are small, fluffy and very cute Ă˘â‚¬â€ť to fit the cityĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s size regulations. Nevertheless, BeijingĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s canine population has multiplied in recent years. Only two decades ago, to keep a pet was frowned on as a sign of bourgeois extravagance. Today, officials estimate that one million dogs live in Beijing. To deal with the proliferating pets, the Ministry of Civil Affairs has set up a pet service centre. Zhang Rui, a ministry official, said: Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“While in remote villages people still regard dogs as guard dogs, in cities the concept of an animal as a companion has become widespread.Ă˘â‚¬?
So popular are pets that the Government has imposed strict restrictions on the breeds that may be kept. Any hound measuring more than 35cm in height must be banished to the suburbs. A dog licence costs Ă‚ÂŁ72, no small investment in a country where the average disposable urban income is Ă‚ÂŁ785.
And that is just the beginning of the extravagance. Dogs have their own grooming parlours offering pedicures, acupuncture and massages along with a more usual coat trim.
In the Beijing Wantong Shopping Centre, 26-year-old Zhang Yan pointed to a red winter jacket and cap. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“I want this one for Chinese New Year,Ă˘â‚¬? she told the assistant. But she is not shopping for the latest fashions; this is a coat to keep her two-year-old Schnauzer warm. Doting Beijing dog owners spend at least Ă‚ÂŁ1.5 million a year on their pets, according to the Association of Small Animal Protection.
And that is why ChinaĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s dog lovers are confusing. What of the many city residents happy to dine out on hound? A waitress in the Sour Fish Soup Household restaurant was clearly puzzled when asked why dog was on the menu.
Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“ItĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s good to eat in winter, the meat warms you up,Ă˘â‚¬? she said. It is a view common in China, where foods are divided into those that heat the body and those with cooling properties. That makes dog a perfect winter dish, while cooling duck is favoured in summer.
Up to 10 million dogs are slaughtered every year, said Jill Robinson, founder and chief executive officer of the Animals Asia Foundation, based in Hong Kong. Ms Robinson said: Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“Attitudes have been changing, but China is still the worldĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s biggest consumer of dogs.Ă˘â‚¬?
With one in nine Chinese now owning a pet, awareness of the need for animal protection is growing. Qing Xiaona, head of BeijingĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s Capital Animal Welfare Assocation, launched a campaign this week to build support for her goal to make the eating of dog meat illegal.
She hopes that with the Beijing Olympics only two years off, it is time for legislation to ban the eating of dog meat. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“We will use this opportunity to push the Beijing city parliament to make this illegal.Ă˘â‚¬?