Cats and dogs are lucky to live with urban Chinese families, where they are fed milk and bathed with shampoo. But, sadly, most of them do not end up with a decent, or even proper, burial after death, which has aroused wide concern about public health.
Once despised as a sign of bourgeois decadence in the nation several decades ago, pets have been popular with Chinese urban dwellers over the past few years, due to a dizzying rise in their living standards accompanied by a growing sense of loneliness.
However, how to deal with dead pets has become an increasingly acute problem in China. It is worthy of note that most of them in Chinese cities are buried in the lawns of residential quarters, public parks, and some are even thrown in the garbage or tossed into local rivers, said Lu Di, head of China's Association of Pets Protection.
The government has so far no laws or regulations concerning the burial or cremation of dead pets, Lu said.
In Jinan, a medium-sized city in the eastern Shandong Province, over 18,000 pets die from diseases or old-age every year.
"But almost all are buried casually," said Lin Zhenguo, president of the Zhenmu Pets Hospital in Jinan.
Sitting in his office, Lin pointed to the Qianfo Shan (Thousand Buddha Mountain) resort across the street, saying that some pet owners had just sneaked in the park and buried their dead pets in the dark.
"Animal bodies carry many germs, some of which won't die out even when the bodies decompose in the earth," Lin said, adding that casually disposed bodies could pollute the underground water, on which nearly half of Jinan's 2 million residents depend.
"The best way to handle bodies is cremation or deep burial," Lin said.
All over the country, only a couple of cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu have animal crematoriums, but few of them make good business.
A worker at Bo'ai Animal Crematorium, the only such institute in Beijing, said they cremate only a dozen dead pets monthly in the city that has an estimated 2 million pets, over 300 of which die every day.
Business has been slow since the animal crematorium started, said the owner, who asked not to be identified.
"It is hopeless to try to recover our over 3 million yuan (US$371,300) investment," he added.
To cremate a dog costs 500 yuan (US$61), or 800 yuan if it is big, he said, adding that a casket for the ashes costs 100 yuan to 1,300 yuan.
In recent years, businessmen have cashed in on the animal cemetery business, targeting wealthy pet owners, only to find themselves called-off by the government or in a dry market.
Most pets are treated well only when they are alive.
Lin said sometimes he has to keep and bury dead pets abandoned at the hospital.
"If no action is taken, five years later when most pet dogs are growing into their final years, China will face a severe problem of a pet necropolis," he warned.
In China, the animal hygiene issue first came to the spotlight in 2003, when civet cats, considered a delicacy in the southern province of Guangdong, were linked with the deadly SARS outbreak.
At present, the fight against bird flu has required chicken and duck raisers to vaccinate their poultry. Pet bird markets in Shanghai have been suspended.
Earlier this month, a source with the central government said it was drafting laws to protect animals, a subject that is closely connected to food safety and public health.
Experts have suggested the government fund pet crematoriums and burial sites affordable to common pet owners.
"I have no problem spending 200 yuan to have my dog cremated or buried properly," said Liu, a native of Jinan who took his sick dog to Lin's hospital.
(Xinhua News Agency December 7, 2005)