Even On a Leash, They’re Happy to Be Outside

SHANGHAI — It’s Monday afternoon at a riverside park in Xuhui District. Some people are taking a walk along the walkway. Some are chatting on a bench and looking at ships on the river, playing saxophone, or doing tai chi. Some younger visitors are skateboarding and picnicking with friends. And other visitors are chasing each other and wrestling, sniffing each other’s butts, or barking at everyone who passes by.

Binjiang Park, on the west bank of the Huangpu River, is a favorite with Shanghai’s canine population. After two months of very limited walks, they’re settling back into their old routines.

Two dogs at a riverside park in Shanghai, May 30, 2022. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone
Two dogs at a riverside park in Shanghai, May 30, 2022. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Chen Kang lives just 15 minutes’ walk from the park. Every day after dinner, he walks his dog in the park for about an hour, which was their routine for the two years, until 25 million Shanghai residents were locked down April 1, amid the country’s worst COVID-19 outbreak since 2020.

“When hearing the news, my first concern was how my dog was going to do his business,” Chen told Sixth Tone Monday. During the lockdown, residents of his apartment complex were not allowed to walk their dogs even in the courtyard. Many rushed to pick up grass and rocks to make an “immersive experience” for their dogs.

Chen did the same, but his 2-year-old adopted dog wasn’t buying it. After two days watching his black-and-white country dog hold it in, he decided to let him out alone to pee and poo in the compound.

“I felt bad about not cleaning up his poop but I was also relieved that he didn’t have to suffer,” 20-something Chen said.

But a few days later, he was reported by a neighbor to the neighborhood committee who then sent a message in the building WeChat group ordering him to keep the dog inside. “Back then, there were quite a few infected cases in the compound and everyone was anxious,” Chen recalled. “I don’t want to bring more trouble to others, so I had no choice but to keep him home.”

To his relief, after three more days, his dog learned how to pee and poo at home. “I realized dogs are better at adapting themselves than I thought. It’s the human who doesn’t have the resolution to make the change.”

On Monday, the first day he was allowed to step out of his estate gate, Chen took his dog to their favorite park for walking and socializing.

“Everything seems normal here,” Chen said, referring to the volume of people and dogs at the park. “When the coffee shops reopen, it’d be just perfect.”

Liu, a 58-year-old Xuhui resident, has been dreaming about coming back to the park with her poodle Baobao since the middle of March. Her compound was sealed off nearly two weeks before the citywide lockdown. In mid-April, it was declared a “prevention zone,” after which residents were allowed to walk the dogs within the compound.

“But the walk is definitely different,” Liu said. “I only walked her five minutes and feared she might catch the virus.”

Monday morning Liu finally received a pass, allowing a single member of her household to go out for three hours yesterday and today.

“I grabbed my bag, left my husband at home, and walked my dog out right away,” she giggled. “I had to take the opportunity when it’s there, because who knows what will happen tomorrow.”

Baobao was making new friends at the park. One of them was a five-year-old crossbreed, visiting the park with owner Wang Jiaying.

They had spent three hours at the park by the time Sixth Tone met them.

“I think I’m probably happier than she is,” Wang said. “I feel life has almost got back to normal.”

In her normal life, Wang usually brings her dog to the riverside park at weekends. Sometimes she goes there alone, sipping an ice latte, sitting in the breeze. When the weather is nice, she goes daytime camping with her friends and their dogs on the grass.

“It’s a way of life,” 31-year-old Wang said. “It’s cool, lively, and relaxing here.”

Life has been difficult for Wang in the past two months during the lockdown. Every single day, she’s anxious about what would happen to her dog if she’s infected with COVID-19. During the lockdown, some pets of people taken to quarantine centers were left at home alone, or even killed by quarantine workers.

She came up with two options. She would either send the dog to a neighbor or leave it at home with enough food and water for two weeks.

“Even though the government later clarified the rules, I still feel worried and uneasy,” Wang said.

On Monday afternoon, the Shanghai government announced that the citywide lockdown would come to an end on June 1. “I hope it’s really the end of it,” said Wang. “Both my dog and I need freedom.

This is article was published on Sixth Tone.

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