SHANGHAI — In some parts of China, dogs have the unenviable reputation of being mean and unclean. They might spend much of their lives watching front doors, waiting for their humans to come home, all the while at risk of being dognapped, sold, butchered, and eaten.
So when Liang Xiaojun saw a Chinese dog about to come onstage at the 2019 World Dog Show, she was stunned. “I never expected to see a dog from rural China competing alongside those other, more expensive breeds,” the 26-year-old dog lover told Sixth Tone on Tuesday, the first day of this year’s four-day event in Shanghai.
Sanctioned by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI), also known as the World Canine Organization, the World Dog Show is one of the most important international dog shows in the world, held in a different FCI member country each year since 1971. This year is China’s first chance to play host, and it’s only the second time the event has been held in Asia. Often called the “Canine Olympics,” the World Dog Show’s evaluation categories include agility, obedience, conformation, handler, and grooming, among others.
China’s pet industry has grown tremendously in recent years. In 2018, the value of the country’s dog industry alone exceeded 106 billion yuan ($15.7 billion). Moreover, Chinese consumers have increasingly shown they are willing to pamper their pets, spending big bucks on everything from pet hotels to pet funerals.
However, frequent headlines of animal abuse and dog eating in some parts of the country have damaged China’s reputation for protecting animal welfare. When Shanghai in 2015 won the bid to host the World Dog Show, a petition was circulated online to stop China from hosting the event. The FCI then released a statement, calling the show an “excellent opportunity” to raise awareness among the Chinese population that “the dog, our beloved friend, is a member of our families, a living entity and most of all, Man’s Best Friend.”
This year’s event — which has adopted the slogan “Respect life, love world” — will see more than 2,100 dogs of 171 breeds from over 40 countries compete, and the number of visitors from home and abroad is expected to exceed 50,000, according to Xie Dianqi, secretary-general of the China Kennel Union (CKU), the only recognized FCI member from China.
“We want to take this opportunity to promote animal welfare in China, and at the same time let the world know that Chinese people love dogs and respect lives,” Xie said at a press conference Tuesday. He added that hosting the event would give China the chance to promote its native dogs on the global stage: This will be the first time in World Dog Show history that Chinese breeds will compete.
In 2016, CKU established a club to protect and breed native dog species. So far, six purebreds have been identified and bred for three generations each. According to the FCI’s requirement, each breed must be bred for five generations and be at least 1,000 in number before it can be registered as a new breed and participate in international competitions. “With new DNA technology, we expect to register the first native Chinese dog breed with the FCI by 2022,” Wang Ting, the director of CKU’s native breed conservation club, told Sixth Tone.
To achieve this goal, CKU is cooperating with local breeders and native-dog enthusiasts like Li Kunlin. Li bought four purebred Chuandong hounds — originally from the border between the southwestern Sichuan province and Chongqing municipality — to display at the World Dog Show. The ancient, little-known breed had soon caught visitors’ attention.
The history of the Chuandong hound can be traced back 2,000 years, Li told Sixth Tone, and today, locals in the mountainous eastern part of Sichuan use the dogs to hunt. “They’re intelligent and fearless, with an outstanding sense of smell — they aren’t inferior to any of the expensive foreign breeds,” he said.
When asked how much a Chuandong hound might cost, Li said they aren’t for sale. In the past few years, he’s bred around 20 Chuandong hounds through three generations from his home in Chongqing. “These dogs aren’t valued by the villagers, and this leads to cross-breeding and all kinds of (genetic) diseases,” Li said. “The number (of purebreds) is dropping rapidly, and if we don’t protect them now, they will die out before we know it.”
In 2017, a Tang gou — a Chinese breed also known as the “meat dog” — won best in show at a competition organized by CKU. “In that moment, it was no longer just another meat dog that’s so often abandoned or rejected in China,” Wang said. “Whatever their breed, Chinese or foreign, all dogs should be respected and loved.”
This article was published on Sixth Tone.