The challenges and choices owners of fur babies face during holidays
By Wang Ruohan  ·  2024-02-26  ·   Source: NO.9 FEBRUARY 29, 2024
Fu Chao, a white-collar worker in Beijing, faced quite the predicament ahead of this year's Spring Festival, China's biggest annual holiday and a time for family reunion. She'd planned to spend the eight-day holiday, starting from February 10, in her hometown of Zibo, Shandong Province, given her busy work schedule generally prevented her from visiting throughout the year. However, her beloved kitty posed a challenge.

What to do with her feline companion?

When she posted this question in her "cat lovers" group chat on Weixin, China's omnipresent super app, on February 6, suggestions instantly came flooding in: home-based pet feeding services, pet hotels, flying with her cat… Within 30 minutes, more than 300 messages were exchanged, weighing the security, cost and convenience of each option.

Bringing love home 

In the group, Zheng Yongjie shared her journey of flying home with her pet for the 2021 Spring Festival. Zheng, originally from Fuzhou in the southeastern province of Fujian, is a university student in the city of Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, where she has a cat to keep her company.

Worried about the risks of leaving her pet at her dormitory or in a pet hotel, Zheng decided to fly her furry companion home with her.

Zheng recalled that the process of arranging her pet's China Eastern Airlines flight from Xi'an to Fuzhou was a pretty smooth one. After confirming the flight would allow for her fur baby to fly cargo, she visited the local animal inspection and quarantine bureau three days before takeoff to obtain the necessary documents, and prepared her pet's vaccine card and flight details.

In total, this kitty's journey cost her around 300 yuan ($41.7).

But the safety of pets flying in cargo depends on a variety of factors.

Some potential risks of transporting fur babies in cargo include temperature fluctuations and exposure to loud noises. Pets may also experience stress and anxiety due to the unfamiliar environment, which can negatively affect their wellbeing.

Bringing a small pet into the cabin is another option. But it wasn't available to Chinese passengers until a few years ago.

Hainan Airlines was the first domestic airline in China to allow pets in the passenger cabin. In late January of 2018, the airline introduced a policy allowing travelers to take their dogs or cats with them into the main cabin during domestic flights departing from nine cities, marking a pioneering move in China's aviation industry. Now, the service is available on domestic flights departing from 15 cities, including Shanghai, Shenzhen and Haikou, capital of China's southernmost province of Hainan.

Pets must be in a carrier not exceeding 35X28X24 cm, placed under the seat in front of the owner, and they should remain in it throughout the flight. Unlike traditional cargo holds like Zheng opted for, the pet-in-cabin service carries a price tag of 1,399 yuan ($194.5), even higher than some human flight fares.

But pets flying in the cabin, too, can have its risks.

Hainan Airlines flight attendant Victoria Ma told Beijing Review that potential risks, such as other passengers being allergic to animal hair, pets escaping from their carriers and other situations, exist. Ma did add that passengers are currently mostly curious about pets boarding the plane and there have been no complaints so far.

Leaving love behind 

Xue Siyan, a student living in Beijing's Daxing District, has been caring for pets for 13 years. A year ago, she started helping out some friends by feeding their pets whilst they were traveling during the Spring Festival holiday. She has since turned this favor into a side gig and she promotes her services on the popular Chinese lifestyle app Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book).

"I'm passionate about caring for animals. During holidays like the Spring Festival, if I'm not traveling, I offer pet feeding services at clients' homes, ensuring every pet gets the attention it deserves," Xue told Beijing Review.

China's big holidays like the May Day, the National Day in October and Spring Festival are peak seasons for her services. This Spring Festival, Xue had bookings from 22 clients, and she charged between 50 to 100 yuan ($7 to $14) per home visit—depending on the length of the visit.

Equipped with shoe covers, gloves, a mask and pet-specific disinfectants, Xue provided playtime, ventilation, food and water replenishment, litter box cleaning and dog walking services, with every visit lasting 25 to 40 minutes.

Xue Siyan provides her home pet feeding services to a furry friend in Beijing on February 11 (COURTESY PHOTO)

"This job is about more than just feeding pets; it's about taking responsibility for a life," Xue emphasized.

While home feeding is affordable and keeps pets comfortable, it's not without risks. Xue recounted incidents like cats jumping out of windows that had been left open or pets being deprived of water because of problems with water dispensers.

In addition to safety hazards to pets, home feeding services can also pose property and privacy threats to their owners.

Currently, China's home pet feeding services vary greatly in quality. Despite the presence of professional platforms like Maoxiang and Xicat, where potential feeders are subjected to rigorous screening, interviews and training, many individuals advertise their services solely on mainstream platforms like Little Red Book. This "low-entry barrier" results in unpredictable service standards. The high demand for feeders and pet sitters during holidays in China's urban areas attracts numerous people looking to make some extra cash, but some, however good their original intentions, may overextend themselves, risking the safety of pets and the satisfaction of pet owners. 

Of course, owners who cannot take their pets with them on their travels also have the option of putting their fur babies up in a pet hotel.

Hu Yiyang, who manages two cat shops in Beijing, told Beijing Review that during the Spring Festival holiday, both his establishments were fully booked with a total of 200 pet boarding orders, generating an income of approximately 100,000 yuan ($13,901).

With boarding prices ranging from 100 yuan ($14) to 458 yuan ($63.7) per day, depending on the accommodation type, pets typically stay for about 10 days during this particular festive period. Additionally, Hu's shops treat their feline guests to a special New Year's Eve feast comprising chicken, egg yolk, carrots and cat grass, ensuring a festive diet.

Compared to home feeding services, pet hotels offer distinct advantages. Hu explained that these hotels guarantee round-the-clock care, guaranteeing a prompt response should anything befall the fluffy friends.

Two tiny feline boarders are enjoying their time at one of Hu Yiyang’s pet shops in Beijing on February 12 (COURTESY PHOTO)

However, many pet owners have expressed concerns about the cleanliness and disinfection standards of pet hotels, as well as the risk of infectious diseases from other boarders at the facility. 

To tackle these concerns, Hu ensures that his pet shops thoroughly clean and disinfect all supplies and rooms on a daily basis. Additionally, personalized play sessions and regular grooming and medication are provided to maintain the hygiene and safety of the pets in their care.

In the end, considering her cat's timid nature, Fu arranged for her colleague in Beijing to feed her during the holiday, while a cat camera with interactive features and automatic feeder provided additional support.

Upon her return, Fu found her cat well-taken care of, seemingly unaffected by her absence.

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon 

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