When Zhang first came to Beijing, she was alone and didn't know anyone. But in less than a year, she managed to form a close group of friends, and it's all thanks to her dog Duanduan.
"They put me in a WeChat group where they discuss how to raise dogs. I found out that taking care of a dog isn't that easy," Zhang said.
According to Zhang, some dog owners will only feed their pets imported food, which can mean spending 800 yuan a month and even traveling to Hong Kong to buy it.
One commuter in Beijing surnamed Chen told the Global Times that she keeps her dog in a day-center when she goes to work every day, "because I don't want my dog to feel lonely."
"They charge me 35 yuan per hour for the service, which only includes keeping her in a little cage and feeding her every hour. If you want special service, they can hire people to walk your dog, but that's too expensive for me," said Chen.
Some even spend two or three hours cooking for their dogs as they don't trust the quality of commercial dog food.
Owners' love of their pets has resulted in a boom in China's pet industry in recent years. According to a white paper jointly published in 2016 by the Chinese Pet Products Association and other organizations, 122 billion yuan was spent in China's pet industry in 2016, while the figure is expected to go up to 200 billion yuan by 2020, said Xinhua News Agency.
According to one pet shop owner in Beijing, pet owners range from 20 to 70 years old in age, and own various kinds of animals, including dogs, cats, goldfish and even snakes.
Chen said that having a pet helps dissipate the loneliness that comes with living in Beijing by oneself. "Having a dog is like having a family member so I don't feel I'm alone. I think we need each other's companionship."
According to the pet shop owner, many of his customers feel the same way. "Many (customers) are single. Some are also elderly people living without their children. They really take care of these pets and treat them like family members."
Although people have different reasons for owning pets, most are seeking emotional comfort, Sun Quanhui, a senior scientific advisor at the international NGO World Animal Protection, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
People are socializing in more diversified ways, so they need loyal companionship from these pets and are more willing to spend money on them, said Sun.
However, Chen points out that sometimes people treat their pets with more care than their children, spending more money on their health, food and other things. She also questioned the qualifications of some people who offered medical services for pets.
According to Xinhua, a woman surnamed Liu managed to open one such business in Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality without providing the relevant certification. Liu was quoted by Xinhua as saying that she had only received two months' training to offer medical services for pets.
The increase in the number of pet owners has resulted in an increase in pet-related businesses, including those that provide medical services and pet beauty salons, said Sun, adding that these business lack qualifications.
Recently, the emergence of a "pet-killing" group triggered outrage on Chinese social media.
Members of the group, which was discovered by animal protection volunteers, share experiences and swap tips on killing stray animals and pets. One member described how he poisoned a dog and recorded its symptoms.
The group was uncovered by volunteers when seven pet dogs died after allegedly eating poisoned sausages with sharp hooks inserted into them in the city of Nanjing, East China's Jiangsu Province, the Beijing Youth Daily reported on Monday. While the reports generated anger, others complained about dog owners who allowed their pets to freely defecate outdoors.