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Beijing (AFP) – At Zhou Tianxiao’s hotel in the northern suburbs of Beijing, where room service includes belly rubs and squeaky toys, bookings are filling up fast as China’s easing of Covid restrictions spurs a travel boom.
Zhou’s Dog Villa is just one of many pet sitting services that has seen a welcome return to previous booking levels since some semblance of normalcy resumed.
Zhou, who is also an internet influencer, originally built the half-million-dollar facility for the comfort of just one dog — his own border collie Sylar — before turning it into a business.
Painted with colorful murals with a huge courtyard and individual video-linked pens, it is a popular choice for Beijingers who want to leave their pampered pooches in safe hands during the Lunar New Year holiday.
“During the Spring Festival, people usually need to visit their relatives and friends, and they usually cannot bring their dogs with them during these visits,” Zhou explained.
“And we have a pool. For the dogs they send here, it’s like having their own vacation,” he laughed.
Millions of Chinese are reuniting with their families for the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic in late 2019.
Among them are thousands of clients from pet-sitting platform Maoxiang, which means “Cat Alley” in English.
“We have more orders for this Spring Festival than for the whole year last year,” founder Yan Dong told AFP.
“When the situation with the pandemic was difficult, people just didn’t leave their homes. We were hit hard because there wasn’t a lot of demand,” she said.
Seven Sha, a 30-year-old cat keeper from Beijing, told AFP she expects about 80 home visits during the seven main days of the holiday.
“My work during the Spring Festival is full every day… I have to work from early morning until late at night,” she said.
Furry family members
Pet ownership in China has skyrocketed as the country’s middle class expands rapidly. In 2022, there were almost 100 million households with pets.
Many loyal owners are ready to spend huge sums to ensure the comfort of their pets.
Shanghai media reported that the price of one night at some pet-sitting facilities is 1,000 yuan ($147), significantly more than the average price of a hotel room per person.
Sha said someone once sent her a 1,000-word document on how to take care of their cat.
Most clients see their cats as members of their family and don’t care how much they spend on them, she said.
Some even prefer their furry family members to their human ones.
“Personally, I would rather spend time with the dogs here than go back home,” said Mei, a worker at Zhou’s dog hotel.
“Like most families, when we first meet for the holidays, we’re very happy – but as time goes on, there can be some arguments.”
© 2023 AFP