Animal lovers dote on furry families at fair
 
Aug 25, 2013
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As cats and dogs in China start to be fed organic food, dressed in trendy vintage-style cotton T-shirts and receive medical care from internationally licensed vets, the status of pets has been elevated to a whole new level, becoming a "second child" in a family, or the only child in DINK partnership.

At the 16th Pet Fair Asia, which began on Thursday in Shanghai's World Expo Exhibition and Convention Center, thousands of pet owners from around the country crowded the 37,000-square-meter venue with rare and not-so-rare but equally cherished "animal babies", and snapped up pricey "daily life necessities".

"The focus is less and less on unusual species and more on gadgets that will help animals live longer and better," said Ji Li, the organizer of the fair, which in past years used to attract attention with the likes of pony-sized alpacas and Bengal cats.

More than 600 exhibitors from 32 countries are participating in the four-day fair with their products. A total of 15,000 people have pre-registered for the annual fair, which charges 100 yuan ($16.3) per person for entry.

Organizers estimate that visitor numbers this year could exceed the record-breaking 50,000 people last year.

While Bengal cats, priced as high as 100,000 yuan each but not for sale by a Taiwan pet shop, Japanese carp and a horse were the primary focus of the crowds and photographers, pet food, special water, clothes, toys and even memorial service providers were also surrounded by pet owners and distributors.
"The bestsellers are our most expensive kinds of dog food," said Wang Lini, marketing manager of Nature Bridge, one of the top pet food companies in China.

The variety is sold for 180 yuan a 1.5 kg pack and claims to use a Norwegian recipe and ingredients free of additives and preservatives. As a cost comparison, local supermarkets sell Jasmine rice imported from Thailand, considered the best rice by many, for about 60 yuan a kilo.

Zhang Huijing, a pet food wholesaler from Ningbo, Zhejiang province, said pet owners these days treat their dogs and cats as members of the family.

"You don't haggle over money when it comes to family," she said. The 32-year-old Ningbo native expanded her online pet food shop to a bricks and mortar store a year ago in her hometown because the market is booming and many pet owners "are willing to spend".

At last year's pet forum held by the fair, Paula Flores, head of Global Pet-care Research at Euromonitor International, a London-based private intelligence firm, estimated that by the end of 2012, sales in China's pet industry could surpass $1.25 billion, up 22.5 percent from three years ago.
That amount was just "the tip of the iceberg", accounting for less than 5 percent of the potential pet market.

Jiang Fangni, vice-president of one of Shanghai's largest pet-care companies, Naughty Family, believes pets are often treated no differently from people.

"Aside from the traditional grooming and beautifying, pet owners are paying more attention to medical care when their dogs and cats are sick," she said, adding that the company is importing more high-tech facilities and hiring veterinarians to cater to the market.

"They (pets) are respected more," said Jiang.

Tao Yongsheng, a 53-year-old trader in Shanghai, who brought his 2-year-old Samoyed to the fair, said he spends 3,000 yuan a month on "his second son", who joined the family when the first one left for college.

"It (the money spent) is worthwhile," said the businessman, while parading his large white dog around the exhibition space where it enjoyed pats and exclamations from others in the audience. He imported the dog from Scotland for 26,000 yuan.

"I don't drink or smoke or socialize with business friends, and I don't have many hobbies. But with him, I have great fun," he said.