A recent study suggests that when loving dog owners look at the pictures of their furry friends, the same part of the brain is affected when parents look at the pictures of their children. It is pure joy. Yes, dogs are the greatest companions for their numerous positive attributes such as loyalty, fierceness and companionship, but humans carry great responsibilities in order to enjoy beautiful moments with them, in order to feel secure, in short, in order to function in the right way towards the dog and towards society.
For some people some of the following reminders will be a waste of time, since they know and exercise it well, but the reason why I decided to write about this topic is that I still see people from all nationalities, here in Beijing, behaving in an impossible and irresponsible way. These are people from countries with and without dog-as-a-pet-tradition, people who seem educated and centred, but who actually prove to be selfish, mean and reckless. Enough is enough!
First responsibility as a dog-owner is keeping your pet’s documents ready-to-go. Was s/he registered by the police? Are her/his vaccines up to date? I see way too often that some people only bring their dogs to the vet when they are already sick, and that might be too late. Keeping your dog healthy is your duty! Some diseases are sometimes hard to fight, when dogs get kennel cough or the nasty skin disease known as ringworms, for example. The latter can be contracted when dogs have contact with an infected one or in any dog groomer who re-used utensils in sick dogs, which was the case with my dogs. It takes ages to get rid of ringworm. It is an arduous work that cannot be relaxed or ignored. Best way to avoid it? Don’t let your dog mingle with ‘anyone’ and wash your dogs yourself. When you cannot avoid it, choose a groomer inside a dog clinic because hygiene standards are at least one grade higher.
Still in terms of health, how many dog owners know what they can feed their pets? I see people giving chocolate, spicy foods, fruits and vegetables that do not do the dog’s organism any good. When a human eats a tomato or grapes it is healthy, but when a dog eats it, it is dangerous! So, before giving your dog the next snack, check online or with your vet whether this would do her/him any good. And for those who don’t enjoy cooking extra for the dog so much, like my mother used to do (making my Pincher back then live a record of 23 years), don’t save so much in dry food. It is not about feeling your dog’s tommy up, but it is about a healthy and balanced diet.
Now, which dog owner wouldn’t like to walk about with the dog off-leash all the time and make sure that the dog won’t jump in front of a car, or in a baby’s push-chair, or in the thighs of an elderly who can barely manage to stand on their own feet, or cruise around other dogs who are not interested in playing or in any interaction out of place? Every dog owner dreams about it, but the truth is that letting your dog off-leash outside your home and outside specific dog parks is reckless, egoist and irrational. Every dog trainer will back me on this: dogs should be on the leash at all times! If you don’t know how to walk your dog, then learn it! I know how difficult it is with my strong and healthy 3 year-old Boxer pulling like a horse at times, but I respect the next, I respect my environment, so I do it. But when a mindless dog-owner walks with their dog off-leash around mine and any other dog on the leash, it causes only distress. Some people really train their dogs well to walk behind them and to come immediately when called, but the truth is that a dog, no matter how well trained, is and stays unpredictable. Do you want to let your dog run free? Guess what: I want that, too! But when I want interaction I go to dog parks in the city or even inside some compounds in Shunyi. Why make everybody’s life a hell every time a loose dog walks by? Be sensible! You are not alone in the world.
The other issue I would raise as a point is shelter. I understand that depending on the dog’s size s/he will be acknowledged as a guardian dog, but having a guardian dog does not give the owner the right to mistreat her/him by not allowing the dog to come inside the house – ever or just rarely – be it rain, snow, smog or extreme heat or cold. Yes, dogs might poo in the kitchen or roll on your bed, but making your dog feel part of the family is more important than going mad because of the chaos that they can sometimes create. Teach them that beds and sofas are not allowed (if you happen not to allow it) and the rest will be just fine.
Beatings are most common among Chinese dog owners who are still ‘learning’ how to deal with dogs outside the dinner table. Know that dogs are trained with rewards, not with punishment. Violent humans who kick and beat their dogs should stay away from them, not adopt them. It is like some experts say: Psychopathic behaviour can be established by the way you treat your pets… In other words: know how your pet is, and I will tell you who you are. One thing is sure though: no dog gets beaten in front of me.
Next is what to do when you want to travel? Not travel? This is not an option, but leaving your dog alone at home is a huge risk, even if your ayi or driver or gardener or friend promises that s/he will stop by every day to check on her/him and feed. Can you really trust them blindly? Dogs used to humans suffer greatly when the family is not around and the psychological pain can have long-lasting side effects. Thus, the best solution is to bring your dog to a boarding facility. Having lived in many countries I realize that Beijing is the worst city I have seen so far in terms of boarding options. I have been on a long quest for over 4 years searching for a good pet-hotel in and around the capital where hygiene and accommodation standards are acceptable and so far I haven’t found one place that has it all. I have visited all of them personally, yes, all of them, and apart from the Doctors’ Beck and Stone Clinic, which offers cage boarding, I haven’t seen one place where I would feel at ease. I really don’t understand why, since the demand is here and dog lovers would not mind paying a bit more for a place that they can trust their dogs in. Either your dog will have space, but hygiene standards are poor, or your dog will be in a cage, but the hygiene standards will be acceptable, or the dog will be in a clean and big space, but in the dark without even water, or the dog will come together with other sick dogs and come back home sick as well. Hoping that China will improve the situation, the responsibility is still the owner’s to find a reasonable place to board their dogs. Either way, families who leave their dogs more than three weeks boarding, or let their dogs too long alone at home for hours and hours when they are not travelling should refrain from adopting. I know that dog shelters are desperate to have people adopting, but making a dog suffer in a family home is no different than making a dog suffer in a shelter.
This brings me to my last topic and the most heart-breaking one: Abandonment. A dog is not a toy, it is a living creature that not only eats, drinks, barks and plays, but a creature that feels. It takes effort, patience and also a lot of money to care for a dog, so whenever the dog becomes ‘difficult’ or ‘unpractical’ it is not a reason for abandonment. You don’t just give up on a soul like this. It should be against the law, just like it is forbidden to abandon your own children. Chinese might do it because they still don’t know any better in a country with no dog tradition, but expat families usually know what they are doing; they know that their time in China will end one day, meaning that they will have to move abroad again. International travel (especially for larger dogs) costs a lot of money but the owner should see it as inevitable: ‘So what, then we won’t make that spring break trip that we were planning… But the dog comes!’ Leaving a dog behind is hurtful not only for the dog, but for kids as well. They might never recover and blame you forever. One thing is to be a foster-family for a few days and see if the family adjusts, but the other thing is having a dog for more than a few months, even years, and decide that the family has no room or interest to care for the dog any longer. If the situation is out of your hands, then finding a loving family is the least that you should do, but just opening the door and saying ‘good luck’ is criminal.
Here I did not want to talk about pets in general because this includes cats, rabbits, well, you name it. But my experience with my dogs for years has brought me to feel secure to write only about them. So far I have had a Pincher, a British Bulldog, two Boxers and a Pug. So, in sum, is it difficult to keep a dog? It is because the family must adjust, be patient and responsible for the dog and for the society. Is it costly? You bet! Food, shampoos, toys, blankets, cages, collars, brushes, boarding stays… But they deserve it, don’t they? Will the house be always clean and tidy? Of course not. Dogs’ toys strewn on the floor, fur in the carpet (specially when the seasons are changing), pee and poo inside in the early months, saliva on the walls, sofa, shoes, freshly cleaned suits, but hey! That is what feeling alive is about! Dogs make dirt; then we clean it and teach them through rewards that it is way better to bite a bone than the table’s leg. Life goes on. The joy and incontestable love that they give back is bigger than any earthly little troubles. One last question: Who is responsible for the dogs’ well being? We are! First the duties, then the fun. Let’s be responsible dog-owners and set examples. Not only the dogs will love you for that, but your family and society will love you and respect you, too.
Luciana B. Veit