As people in Taiwan prepare for Lunar New Year celebrations to welcome in the Year of the Dog, pet store owners are already feeling some new year's cheer.
Pet sellers estimate that on average more than NT$20 billion is spent on 1.6 million pet dogs and related products in Taiwan every year.
But with the "Year of the Dog" soon to arrive, pet store owners have seen their sales increase by at least 20 percent so far.
Dogs that are cute, small in size and easy to take care of remain the most popular animals in the pet market.
The Red Toy Poodle, the recipient of widespread media exposure in Taiwan because popular model Lin Chih-ling owns one, tops the list as the best-selling breed of dog, according to the Taipei Pet Commerce Association. It has remained the most requested breed since the second half of last year.
Rounding out the top 10 of best-selling breeds are Maltese, Dachshunds, Chihuahuas, Yorkshire Terriers, Pomeranians, Shiba Inus, Shi Tzus, Beagles, and Siberian Huskies, in that order.
Association staff member Wang Mei-ling observed that a Red Toy Poodle costs between NT$40,000 and NT$60,000, with some sellers asking for as much as NT$100,000. Despite the high price tag, this breed of dog has been so popular that it has been out of stock since late last year, she added.
While the Maltese is a star species that has always sold well in Taiwan, the Dachshund has become more popular here in recent years, according to Wang.
Sales of Labradors, however, have declined, after the Japanese film Quill made them among the most popular breeds less than two years ago.
According to a pet shop owner on Taipei City's Tunghua Street, the shop sold more than 10 Labradors per month during the months after the movie's release. These days, however, it barely sells a single Labrador per month.
Abandoned dogs on rise
There is a downside to the higher sales, however: increased abandonment.
Chen Jen-kuan, president of the Taipei-based China Pet Association, urged people who plan on owning a pet dog to carefully consider the responsibilities involved and not simply buy a pet because it is fashionable.
Other animal protection activists urged people yesterday that adopting a stray dog was a better choice than spending money to buy one, especially since local residents tend to buy "flavor of the month" breeds before abandoning the dogs when the "fever" dies down.
Animal protection activists have estimated that up to 95 percent of all stray dogs in Taiwan are former pets, reflected, for example, by the rising number of stray Labradors in recent months after many were bought following the movie Quill.
Taipei Municipal Institute for Animal Health chief Yen Yi-feng, said that although more than 80 percent of stray dogs in Taiwan are hybrid breeds, the number of abandoned Maltese, Beagles and Labradors has risen significantly over the last three years.
According to tallies by the institute, there are more than 10,000 dogs abandoned each year in Taipei City, with only around 40 percent later being adopted. Some 20 percent end up dying of illnesses, while about another quarter have to destroyed by animal control officials.
Yang Heng-leng, an assistant professor at National Chiayi University's Department of Veterinary Medicine, noted that the life span of pet dogs can reach 10 years to 15 years nowadays because of improvements in medical technology.
That means people must carefully consider whether they can afford the long-term responsibilities involved in owning a pet dog before they buy one, Yang said.
Also, individuals should have a clear understanding about whether they are capable of being pet owners and have living space that is suitable for raising a dog.
To boost the adoption rate, the Animal Protection Association is planning to provide basic training to the abandoned dogs starting in February in order to make it easier for their future owners to take care of them, he said.