In Year of Dog we ought to know 'beauty happens'

Updated 2018-01-31 11:42:05 China Daily

Does our behavior have any impact on our pets? I believe it does.

And since pets readily bring to mind dogs, and with the Chinese Year of Dog less than three weeks away, let us discuss about dogs.

My father-in-law was bitten by my sister-in-law's pet dog, a Bichon Frise. When he reached the hospital to get anti-rabies vaccination, he was surprised to find dozens of people waiting for the same vaccination. Many of them were bitten by their pet dogs.

About 12 to 15 million Chinese get anti-rabies vaccination every year, according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The number reflects how inseparably urban residents' life is intertwined with that of man's best friend.

Having a pet dog has a profound impact on the owner's life. Apart from the possibility of suffering a dog bite, however, the impact of having a pet dog is quite positive.

After my father-in-law started raising a pup, a Toy Poodle, about two years ago, he underwent a behavioral change, from being a rather private person reluctant to take a walk after meals to becoming much more sociable, at least with other dog owners in his neighborhood. He walks his dog twice a day. And even after being bitten by the Bichon Frise, he has not complained about the incident.

While recently reading The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin's Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World-and Us, I thought I had found the answer. In the book, US evolutionary ornithologist Richard O. Prum argues that Darwin's theory of natural selection cannot explain everything we see in nature, including which species thrive and which become extinct. Instead, there is another engine of evolutionary change: mate choice, for sexual beauty.

The author cites examples to show that many birds choose a mate for purely aesthetic reasons, for the mere pleasure of it, which led him to formulate his hypothesis of "beauty happens".

That made me realize that "beauty happens" in human relationships, too. Our aesthetic perspectives, varied as they are, have helped create so many modern dog breeds-more varied in size, appearance, and behavior than any other domestic animal.

Our changing tastes have also determined the popularity of certain dog breeds during a certain period of time. In the 1970s, the only dog breed I was familiar with was the rural mongrel, now known as Chinese rural dog. Few urban residents owned dogs at the time, and rural people raised them more as guard dogs than pets.

In the 1980s and 1990s, urban Chinese, because of the increase in their incomes and improvement in the living conditions, found a new companion in the fluffy dog breeds. Pekingese and all kinds of hybrids that look similar to ancient breeds of toy dogs originating in China were the most popular in cities during those two decades.

In the 2000s, foreign breeds gained popularity. Currently, Toy Poodles seem to be the most preferred pet dogs in our cities. In every neighborhood or public park, you can easily find these energetic and sociable dogs.

The popularity of foreign breeds may explain the disappearance of Chinese rural dogs in our cities, even in rural areas as urbanites' taste has spread infectiously to the countryside owing to rapid urbanization.

In fact, the dogs that look like Chinese rural dogs on the streets of Beijing often turn out to be Akita dogs or Shiba dogs that originated in Japan. So will authentic Chinese rural dogs be confined only to the pictures related to the Year of Dog in the future? Maybe.

But I still don't believe Chinese rural dogs will become an endangered species. I guess they will become more like poodles, Bichon Frise or Shiba dogs in appearance thanks to the growing foreign influence in China. Beauty happens.

The author Chen Liang is a senior writer with China Daily.

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