Demand for pet sitters has grown in large Chinese cities as the Spring Festival holiday approaches and many pet owners plan trips to their hometowns to reunite with their families.
Pet service providers said the boom in interest is due to the high costs associated with transporting pets or putting them up in kennels, as well as the emotional challenges the animals face when removed from their familiar environments.
Freshippo, a supermarket operated by Alibaba Group, began providing pet feeding and dog walking services on Jan 12 in Shanghai. The services were specifically implemented to meet the demands of Spring Festival travelers.
Jan 12 was the first day that Shanghai customers were able to book services, which will begin on Feb 6 and end on Feb 17. Spring Festival falls on Feb 10 this year.
Freshippo employees will contact pet owners before the services begin to arrange for the handing over of house keys and discuss preparations, such as ensuring that pet food and water are left in easy-to-find places.
The services include providing fresh water and food for the pets, walking dogs and interacting with the animals. Pet owners can observe the services being provided via video.
Most of the time slots for the services, which cost 98 yuan ($14) for 30 minutes, have been booked out, according to Freshippo.
The number of pet cats and dogs living in urban areas in China reached more than 58 million and 54.29 million, respectively, according to the 2021 China Pet Industry white paper. Data from British market research and analysis service provider Euromonitor International showed that China has more pet cats and dogs than any other country, having surpassed the United States in 2018.
Many pet stores have also received a large number of bookings and inquiries about pet care services during the Spring Festival holiday.
Pet Emoji, a pet store chain in Shanghai, said that it has been providing such services for about three years, and demand typically spikes during the holiday. It charges around 100 yuan for 30 minutes of services for homes within 3 kilometers of a store.
"Most of the pet owners placing orders for such services are our old friends who take their pets to our stores for baths and beauty care regularly. Our workers are familiar with the pets, so caring for them at their homes will go more smoothly," said Wu Rong, a manager of a Pet Emoji store in Changning district.
"Some pet owners, especially women, request that only workers of the same gender as the owners go to their homes, and we'll cater to their needs," he added.
Lu Yiyi, who hired Pet Emoji to care for her cats when she went on a business trip in November, said she will use the store's services again during the Spring Festival holiday. She is planning to return to her hometown — Wuhan, Hubei province — for a week.
"I would say the service last time was beyond expectation. The worker was very careful. She took a video of the whole process when she was at my home and sent it to me. She was very gentle with my two cats. I saw her wash the water dispenser for them," said Lu, 36.
"She made sure that all the windows were closed and my door key was returned to my designated place, and she sent pictures to me when she left. She also took trash away after cleaning the cat litter box and the floor," she said.
Private pet care providers advertising their services on social media have also received warm responses.
Li Shan, a Shanghai resident, posted on Xiaohongshu that she was available to provide pet care services for animals left alone in Shanghai within an hour's ride on the metro. The post has received more than 160 comments, most of which were about people requesting her services.
In her post, Li said she is experienced with cats and dogs, and has four cats of her own.