SHANGHAI — While walking through a busy pet show, Chen Xiaorong found solace and stillness in one particular stall: It was called “Memory.”
The pavilion at The One Pet Show (TOPS), held over the weekend in Shanghai, was a homage to some beloved pets that had died. Inside a glass cabinet were toys, combs, and other items that once belonged to the animals, left by their owners for display.
“I came here to shop and check out the latest products for my dog,” 27-year-old Chen said. “This unexpected pavilion made me want to cherish the time I spend with him (her dog).”
With pet ownership on the rise in China, pet fairs have become an annual affair in many cities. While some events have been focused on pets’ health and well-being, others like TOPS — with over 2,000 brands and more than 400 exhibitors from around the world — intend to help pet owners build deeper emotional connections with their furry friends.
As of 2020, an estimated 62 million people kept dogs and cats as pets, with the country’s pet market surpassing 206 billion yuan ($32 billion) — a nearly 21% increase from 2018, according to an industry white paper.
“We hope that when visitors walk in, they will reminisce about the pets they’ve spent a wonderful time with, and leave behind some of their emotional attachments to their pets here,” TOPS’s spokesperson said at a media event last month.
At the Dog Life Experience pavilion, TOPS cooperated with dog behavior experts, using visual and auditory presentations to help people better understand their canines.
“I had no idea my footsteps sounded that loud for my dog,” a visitor surnamed Qi said after listening to the simulated sound in a headset. “Maybe I shouldn’t have brought him here tonight as the music is so loud.”
Meanwhile, many pet-friendly businesses also set up shop at TOPS to promote their goods and services, including pet-friendly hotels.
Chen Yiyi opened Silent Valley, a pet-friendly homestay in the eastern city of Suzhou in early 2019 catering to mostly young clients who treat their fur babies like children. The hotel charges 500 yuan to 1,300 yuan per night for guests, with each pet billed a nightly cleaning fee of 45 yuan to 75 yuan.
“They pursue a high-end lifestyle and want to travel with their dogs to somewhere pets can be respected as well,” Chen told Sixth Tone at the exhibition.
Another exhibitor, Lu Yangyang, said interest in designer clothes for pets and their owners has been gaining traction. Her company Gigiwawa provides matching clothes for pet owners and their furry friends.
“They have a strong connection with their pets, and we want to portray this kind of emotion through our design,” she said.
Besides hundreds of commercial pavilions, several adoption and rescue nonprofit organizations also appeared at TOPS, advocating for visitors to adopt a pet.
“We hope in a commercial pet fair people can see us and get to know that so many other abandoned animals need their attention and help as well,” an employee with the newly established Companion Animals Working Group said.
This article was published on Sixth Tone.