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Love Thy Doggy As Thyself
by Zou Huilin
Shanghai Star

More and more people are keeping pets as companions or substitutes for children, and paying through the nose for the privilege.

Pitch-black, round eyes stared pitifully in the direction of the fluffy puppy's master. It lay quietly on the examining table waiting for the veterinarian's diagnosis at Companion Animal Hospital, one of the city's first pet hospitals.

Chen Xi stroked his one-month-old little creature tenderly, blaming himself for not taking good enough care of the puppy while imploring the doctor to save him. Chen said his pet had been vomiting since he ate a pet food Chen bought three days before.

When the nurse came with the big hypodermic needle, the puppy instinctively recoiled with piercing whines, and Chen had great difficulty preventing himself from bursting into sobs. Although well into his 30s, Chen is not ashamed to shed tears for his pet in front of adults, an indication of his deep affection for the little critter. His pet or "companion animal" has been an essential part of his life. But Chen is not alone in the city in regarding the animal as one of the family.

Latest statistics show Shanghai has over 70,000 licensed dogs.

Many pet owners treat their animal companions as family members. They also spend large amounts of money on the companion animals. "If I myself get sick, I will not spend so much," Chen said. An outpatient service and an injection cost Chen over 100 yuan ($12). "The prices here are reasonable, " Chen said. "In some other clinics, the price for a simple treatment is over 200 yuan ($24)."

Usually, the first visit to the veterinary clinic costs about 20 yuan ($2.4). The prescription for pills or injections costs more than 150 yuan ($18). The veterinarian will charge owners 300 yuan ($36) for treatment of fracture or pregnancy examination. Neutering or Caesarian birth operation, the price will exceed 500 yuan ($60).

As to items of pet grooming, there is an amazing similarity to human beauty salons - baths, nailclipping, haircuts, cleaning of ears and eyes. Pet food is a big item for pet owners. "On average, a cat might consume 30 yuan's ($3.6) worth of pet food per month," said Crystal Zhang, a cat owner in her late 20s.

One survey carried out by Qiushi, a privately-owned research company, showed that Shanghai people spend more than 600 million yuan ($72 million) per year on their pets. Some insiders say the real figure is much more.

Not long ago, raising a pet was regarded as grossly ostentatious, a sign of bourgeois decadence. Things have changed radically since then. Yang Qiqing, owner of the pet hospital, said the majority of pet owners with whom he has dealt since opening the clinic in 1993 are ordinary people. Li Peili, 75, said that being a retiree, she has a great deal of leisure time and a pet is the best choice to accompany her. Li's husband passed away 20 years ago, and her children are busy with their work. "When I feel lonely, I talk to the cat. She always meows in response," Li said.

Pets not only find their place in the hearts of elderly people, but also occupy an important part in the minds of children and young people. "Raising a pet is much cheaper and less energy-consuming than raising a child, " Zhang said.

In such a fast-moving society, the young are forced to encounter great pressures, and having a baby can sometimes be unaffordable, Zhang said. "Maybe I will be severely scolded for airing such an opinion, but it is an alternative when no other options are available," Zhang said.

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