The companionship of a pet is a special thing, and the love and affection that pets provide is balanced by the care their owners lavish on them.
But if you are thinking about taking a pet home, avoid those from markets or street vendors. Either adopt a pet from a charity or take in a stray this may cost a little more at the outset to provide the necessary veterinary care, but it may be less problematic in the long run.
Most of us know better than to buy from sellers hawking puppies and baby rabbits on street corners. Obviously unregulated and unlicensed, the animals they sell rarely live long.
But some pet markets and stores are not much better, according to the Shanghai-based non-profit animal charity Second Chance Animal Aid (SCAA). Many of their "wares" come from the same breeding farms.
"Basically any industry that breeds animals for profit is not likely to be good for the animals. It's not a good idea to pay for an animal. This is not just the rule in China," says Lee-Anne Armstrong, foster care director at SCAA. "Some expats may think that they're rescuing an animal by buying it, but this is misguided - it just contributes to the industry."
In China, government regulations on pet ownership, such as mandatory licenses for dogs, are designed more for humans. But as pet ownership increases among middle-class Chinese, local animal charities and groups are campaigning for awareness.
One of the largest is an Internet-based group called the China Animal Protection Network which campaigns against the consumption of cats and dogs. Other groups may be grassroots informal collections of animal lovers.
SCAA was founded by an expat in Shanghai in 2005 and has been run ever since then by foreign and Chinese volunteers.
Problems in shop animals include skin or ear infections which can be covered up by antibiotics while the animal is in the store but become apparent at home. Pets may also suffer from behavioral problems from being weaned too early or being kept in cramped cages.
Pet shops are required to have licenses and to source animals from an affiliated breeding farm, but this does not guarantee the welfare of the animal.
On a recent visit to one store in a pet market near People's Square, we found kittens in uncomfortable metal cages, without blankets or water and left outside in the cold. Other animals sat in their own filth.
These kittens were being sold for between 50 (US$7.31) and 80 yuan - the cheapest products in the shop. When we asked if they had any vaccinations, the shop keeper denied there was any need for medical attention and told us to get vaccinations after we take them home.
If you want to buy a pedigree animal, it's difficult to know if you are getting the real thing. Armstrong knows of several cases where animals were dyed or disguised as pedigrees so that they could fetch high prices.
At the same pet shop so-called "pedigree long-haired cats" were being sold for 5,000 yuan, and puppies for 3,500 yuan. But when we asked for certificates, the shopkeeper refused.
When asked for clarification on the exact breed on one of the animals, the owner said: "It's a foreign breed, but not imported. We bred it on our farm in Pudong."
SCAA advises those who really want pedigree pets to buy them from reputable breeders overseas and bring them to China. Otherwise a mongrel can be just as good a pet, and adopting a stray animal and providing it with medical care cuts down on animal trading.
It does take some effort and money to adopt strays - typically 500 to 2,000 yuan per animal depending on how sick it might be when you find it.
"It's unavoidable if you want to be responsible, and that's how you can tell if a charity is doing good work, ie, not taking in too many animals and spending the necessary money on them," says Armstrong.
SCAA holds adoption days every month at O'Malley's Pub. For more info, check www.scaashanghai.org.
Steps for adopting a stray animal
First get a complete check-up, including teeth and gums, skin problems, check for fleas, worms and ear mites and get treatment.
Observe the animal for a week and see if it adjusts well to its new home, whether it's eating and using the litter box.
After a few weeks, if it adjusts well take it to be vaccinated.
At around six months, pets should be neutered or spayed.
Watch out for unethical vets who sell pets as part of their practice, it reflects their profit-centered motives.
Be careful of pet-grooming services, the products they use may be toxic to your pet.
Keep pets indoors - they may be kidnapped if left outside as they are domesticated and easier to catch.
(Shanghai Daily February 27, 2009)