An employee of a pet hotel takes care of dogs in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, on Friday. (Photo by Chen Jimin/China News Service)
While hundreds of millions of people are moving around the country to reunite with their families for Spring Festival, which begins on Feb. 16, Wang Mengfan, 27, is staying at her pet shop in Shanghai and preparing for the peak season during the festival.
The shop, named Pet Dream Mansion, is in Lujiazui－one of the most prosperous areas in downtown Shanghai. It has 50 pet houses for foster service－30 for cats and 20 for dogs.
Foster care for a cat is 200 yuan () per night, while the price for a dog ranges from 120 to 200 yuan, depending on the dog's size. This means the shop can earn at least 8,400 yuan a day during the festival.
"The price is about three times higher than ordinary, due to the surge of service demand and also the higher wages we need to pay to our workers," Wang said.
Even so, all of the houses were booked up a week before the festival, as most pet owners will be back in their hometown or traveling out of the city, and the country's public transportation does not allow pets, except aboard airplanes.
"Those early orders were sent two months before the festival. And price is not the first concern of pet owners. They care more about whether the pets stay comfortable and healthy," she said.
The booming need for pet foster service is also seen in other places, such as Beijing and southern Guangdong province.
Doggyhome in a southern suburb of Beijing covers an area of about 0.66 hectare. It owns about 200 rooms for the temporary care of pets, mostly dogs. Each room is 15 square meters and has an additional small yard in front. Open grassland toward the front gate is provided for pets to play outside.
"Foster service is about 110 yuan per night during Spring Festival, double the usual because of the growing need and a lack of dog trainers," said Yuan Ruizhen, the business's receptionist.
In Guangzhou, an anonymous worker in RingPai National Chain Veterinary Hospital said many pet owners require caregivers to send pictures or video of their pets every day, and some owners even prepare canned food as a celebration of the New Year.
According to the National Statistics Bureau, China is on its way to becoming the third-largest pet market after the United States and Japan. From 2010 to 2016, the local market grew by almost 50 percent annually on average.
A report on China's pet market, released by Epet.com, says China had more than 87 million pet cats and dogs by the end of last year, with dogs making up around 60 percent of the total.
The business of pet-related goods and services is soaring in China and was expected to have reached 134 billion yuan last year.
Instead of sending their pets to a large pet hotel, some younger owners have also turned to trendy platforms on the internet, finding a foster family for their pets through apps or WeChat accounts.
Tang Ziyun, a 24-year-old college student in Beijing, successfully found a foster family for her cat on Xiaogouzaijia ("puppy at home"), which provides home-stay services for pet owners.
Each day of care for the cat costs her 50 yuan, which is acceptable to young pet owners like Tang who are still fresh in the job market and earn no more than 5,000 yuan a month in Beijing.
"Most of the foster families are not doing the service for making money. For example, the girl who takes care of my cat says she just wants to find a playmate for her own cat in case it feels lonely," Tang said. Chen Weirong, a veterinarian in Shanghai, said some pets might become ill after foster care. Skin diseases, coughing, vomiting and intestinal obstructions are the top three possible problems.