Thirty years ago owning a pet dog or cat was a rarity in China. A ban on pet pooches was only relaxed in 1993, although there are still restrictions on owning dogs more than 35 centimetres tall at the shoulder. Beijing is also in the middle of a crackdown on unregistered dog ownership ahead of the 70th anniversary of the Communist Party coming to power next month. But what’s also clear is that pets are playing more important roles in people’s lives.
Take the example of pet cloning, which has been in the news recently after a Chinese company called Sinogene produced the country’s first cloned cat – a British Shorthair called Garlic.
Garlic#2 was born on August 19 after the original animal died at an early age, leaving its owner – a 22 year-old businessman named Huang Yu – heartbroken. Huang had buried Garlic#1 in a local park but after reading that Sinogene was cloning dogs he dug the cat up and put it in his fridge while he made contact with the company.
Garlic#2 was created from skin cells from Garlic#1, which were injected into eggs harvested from another cat. Four further cats were used as surrogates for the resulting embryos.
The whole process cost Rmb250,000 and Huang will take possession of Garlic#2 when the kitten is weaned in a few weeks.
Procedures like these are illegal in most countries because of concerns about how they might impact gene pools but Sinogene says it has already cloned more than 40 dogs since introducing its commercial service in 2018.
Another is due to be born in a couple of weeks – the clone of a collie named Xiaodi. The cost is Rmb380,000 ($53,516) – higher than for Garlic because harvesting eggs from dogs is more difficult, the company has explained.
Urban Chinese now own at least 99 million pet cats and dogs (although some estimates put the full figure at closer to 150 million), which has created a huge industry for pet products. However, not everyone is an animal lover and some cities have rolled back some of the newer freedoms allowed to dog owners.
Hangzhou, for example, has reinstated an old rule stipulating that dogs can only be walked between 7pm and 7am. Local urban management officials (never popular; see WiC203) were also videoed drowning a small dog found wandering freely near its owner’s home.
Qingdao and Shanghai have also moved to enforce rules that limit each family to a single animal.
Back to the cloning, and some netizens have questioned the morality of spending upwards of Rmb250,000 on recreating a pet – noting too that, in Garlic’s case, the replica hasn’t matched the original exactly.
Yet there is also some sympathy for owners who feel bereft when their pets die, prompting the decision to try for a clone.
“The intimate connection between pets and people is a result of modern life: more empty-nesters; middle-age exposing a hollow inside; and young people increasingly remaining single. The companionship of pets gives them the opportunity to step out of the shadow of a lonely life,” wrote China Youth Daily.
In the meantime the media is reporting that Sinogene is trying to clone a horse and that it has plans to clone endangered species, such as pandas and the South China tiger.
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