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What It’s Like to Raise Animals in Beijing

Pet Sounds

For many of us, a home just isn’t a home without a furry friend (or two) occupying the best space on the sofa. Some expat families have actually brought their pets to Beijing with them; others have adopted from one of the many rescue organizations operating in the city. If your family is still on the fence about whether to adopt in Beijing, we are here to tell you the benefits of pet adoption. It’s not for every family—but for those that do, it can be an extremely rewarding experience.



The new addition

Adopting a pet is not a decision to be taken lightly. All too many people adopt a pet that isn’t suited to their particular lifestyle. If you put in long hours at the office, for example, a hyperactive puppy isn’t for you. If your family is from Australia or New Zealand, or you aren’t 100 percent committed to taking them abroad, perhaps fostering a needy pet is a better fit.

“We knew we wanted to get a dog when we moved to Beijing, and for us adoption was the only choice. I did some research before we arrived and heard about puppy mills and some of the inhumane ways puppies are bred and raised, for pet shops and for pet markets, and we didn’t want to support that industry,” notes Rebecca Alexander, the proud owner of Rocky, a rescue puppy. Her oldest daughter Issy wrote up a list in London of all the breeds of dogs suitable for city life—but the whole family ended up falling for Rocky, a tiny puppy rescued from a construction site when he was just three days old.

Lionel Belmon and Jingyan Li wanted to get a pet for their only daughter Alice. But they knew that a big dog would not work for their downtown apartment, nor would a dog be an ideal fit with their heavy travel schedule. “I grew up with a cat. I know how cats can be fun and very warm,” says Belmon. “Cats like to stay with you, follow you, jump on your knees when you are reading … and cats are clean. I knew this was also important for my wife!”



Of kids and kittens

Kids work well with young puppies and kittens, says Mary Peng of the International Center for Veterinary Services (ICVS), because their energy levels match. “With puppies, you have to commit to giving them exercise and playtime. Puppies have to be walked four times a day for 30-60 minutes at a time. That’s two hours of exercise a day!”

That amount of commitment is difficult for a professional couple, but for a family with active kids? It’s not as daunting a task. However, for children under six, interactions between pets and children need to be supervised. “Your job is to supervise at all times,” emphasizes Peng. “This is for the safety of both child and pet.” Children need to be taught how to properly handle pets—an animal might nip back if a child is pulling their tail or grabbing them roughly. It takes time for a child to develop these skills, so until they are trained to do so, keep an eye out to make sure their playful interactions don’t get out of hand.

Carolina Mei Tui Chaw was worried that her stepson Kristofer would be too rough with her rescue cats, some of whom had difficult pasts—but her fears were unfounded. “He’s very sweet with animals. He loves cats especially, so he never mistreats them. He would want to hold them, but didn’t know how at first, so he annoyed them a little bit in the beginning,” she recalls.

Children can be taught to handle pets from 5-6 years of age. That’s why many rescue organizations will only adopt to families with school-aged children. However, many children are born into households that already have pets. “Couples thinking of planning for a family often start with a pet,” explains Peng.



Emotional benefits

“There’s plenty of psychological research that shows how having a pet helps people to feel calmer and happier, and I’d say that’s been true for us,” observes Alexander. An unexpected benefit, she says, is that walking the dog has led her to develop better relationships with the community, as well as given her family the opportunity to explore more of their neighborhood.

“They’re great company when you’re alone,” adds Issy. “If you’ve just moved to Beijing and you get an ayi and your mum and dad go out, your dog will be great company!”

Parents often want to get pets for their children to teach them a sense of responsibility, but there is another huge benefit. The ability to treat another living being with kindness and consideration is the foundation for a humane society, says Peng. “I fell in love with my first pet. Those intense feelings of love—you can’t teach that. Your child has to feel it.”

Chaw was surprised when Kristofer developed an unexpectedly strong bond with Cloud, a Persian cat with a reputation for being violent. “Cloud was neglected and changed five [foster] homes in a month,” explains Chaw. “[Kris] was very patient and loving with Cloud, because we explained that he had a rough past. Kristofer ended up loving the cat and made us keep him!”

Some people avoid pet ownership because they fear introducing their child to the concept of death. While understandable, you won’t be able to shield your child from this painful reality forever, and it teaches children to treasure the moments they have with their loved ones. “It’s one of life’s greatest lessons,” adds Peng.



Welcome home!

There’s often nothing better than coming back from a stressful day at the office, and seeing your child happily playing with the family pet. Li, who never grew up with a pet, now feels that her cat Lei’er has become another member of the family. “We feel like he’s one of our kids … [it’s like] Alice has a brother at home!”

“Alice comes back home from school in the afternoon to play with Lei’er. We come home from the office. First thing is Lei’er welcomes us—he is hungry, and purrs and so on—and we play a lot before we go to bed,” Belmon adds.

“Both of our daughters have loved Rocky since day one,” says Alexander. Her youngest daughter Isla loves cuddling with Rocky, while Issy takes on more responsibilities, including taking him out for his morning walks. “Having a dog here has helped them to feel much more settled in Beijing—it’s helped a new city to feel more like home. Rocky loves them back. One of the favorite parts of his day is meeting the school bus when they get home.”

Chaw almost always has her hands full with new rescue animals. A peculiar danger for her family is watching her stepson get too attached to foster cases. “If he had his way, we would have dozens of animals living with us! But we explained to him that we have to provide and guarantee a forever home to any animals we take in,” she says.

Opening your home to a needy animal is not only an act of kindness. The families we spoke with had at least one member who fondly recalls their childhood pet, and wanted to give that same experience to their child. Consider giving your child the chance to bond with another living creature, and help raise the next generation to be a more responsible and caring member of society.

“I encourage anyone thinking of adopting a pet in Beijing to go for it,” echoes Alexander. “There are so many reputable animal shelters to adopt from, and all will help you with the initial stages and beyond. Many of them also offer a trial week with your pet too, so that you can make sure it works out for the pet and for you!”



Adopt, Don’t Shop

The breeding industry in China is unregulated and sadly full of horror stories. Not only are many of the animals used for breeding routinely abused, but pet shops and street hawkers knowingly sell puppies and kittens with fatal diseases. Don’t put your family through this emotionally shattering experience. Do the ethical thing by finding your next family pet through one of the many rescue organizations in Beijing. ICVS (icvsasia.com) is one of the most expat-friendly resources for finding pets, and they have connections with many independent rescuers. For those specifically looking for dogs, visit the Little Adoption Shop in Shunyi (WeChat: openeverycage) to meet one of the many canines under their care.



Give Old Dogs a New Chance

Adopting an older pet is often the way to go—with an adult dog or cat, you already know exactly what kind of pet you are getting. Want a snuggle cat or a dog who loves outdoor walks? You can meet plenty of older dogs and cats looking for a new forever home and pick out the one best suited to your family. You can get testimonials from rescuers and the foster family about the animal you are considering adopting. “From my personal experience, kittens are super cute but a lot of work,” says Chaw. “I would rather adopt an older animal that won’t require as much attention and play time.” Don’t forget that puppies and kittens grow up incredibly fast. Consider whether a few months of cuteness is worth overlooking an adult animal in need of a home.


Pets on a Plane!

If you adopt a pet, you absolutely need to take them home. Plan ahead to make this process totally painless. No matter where you go in this world, you will at least need a microchip and a rabies shot. Take it a step further by getting the rabies antibody titer test—with these papers, you can take your pets to the EU with little hassle. This has to be started at least 3-4 months before you leave China—but why leave it to the last minute? Get these results a year or two in advance, and all you have to do is keep everything current with a yearly rabies shot. Call ICVS or Doctors Beck & Stone to get the party started. If you aren’t sure whether you can plan that far ahead, but want to give your child the experience of caring for a pet, opt to be a foster family to help a rescue dog or cat in need.

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