As more and more Chinese keep pets due to economic prosperity, the lucrative business of the pet food industry has soared.
Wei Xubin, a professor with Changchun Agriculture and Animal Husbandry University in Northeast China's Liaoning Province, never dreamed he could maintain his State-level lab with funds earned from household dogs and cats.
"I could not believe my ears when I first heard the suggestion that I could use my 30 years of study of animal diets to produce pet food. It sounded to me like using guns to shot mosquitoes," said Wei, who is widely recognized for improving army animals using traditional Chinese medicine.
At the time, he made the switch because there were no other options with modern military machines taking the place of army animals, he said. Wei's once conspicuous lab was faced with shrinking appropriated research funds.
So, for the first time, Wei began researching markets for his work, and discovered a world of pets drastically different from what he had known.
"Pets no longer live a dog's life. Their so-called parents are willing to pay for rich foods and high standards of veterinary care," he said, quoting a report from the Liaoshen Daily that the annual expense on pets in Dalian, a coastal city in Liaoning, amounts to over 10 million yuan (US$1.2 million).
Since then things have progressed smoothly for Wei after he entered the field of pet foods. His fame also easily attracted Japanese and Chinese investors.
A production base specializing in pet foods with traditional Chinese medicine has been established in Zhangjiagang, in East China's Jiangsu Province. The base is the largest and the most advanced of its kind in China.
"But the biggest comfort is that I have enough funds to run my lab at a satisfactory level," he said.
The growing pet industry has given new hope to Wei and many others. Working at or running a pet clinic is popular among today's veterinary science majors in Beijing.
"I would not have chosen to work at a pet clinic a decade ago, when working at a State-owned farm was the preferred choice," said Lin Xin, who graduated from Beijing Agricultural University several years ago and now runs successfully a pet clinic in southwest Beijing's Chongwen District.
All of the 12 doctors and nurses working at Lin's clinic are graduates of his old university.
Although the Chinese capital has 200-odd pet clinics, Lin said they were not enough for the ever-expanding pet population in the city.
"This is a trade with bright prospects," he said.
(China Daily March 13, 2002)