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‘Pet detective’ a growing industry in China
Published: Nov 10, 2021 07:07 PM
Shanghai's first restaurant for pets debuted on Monday. Dishes are only for pets and not pet owners. The restaurant is currently doing a brisk business, with reservations already lined up through August. Photo: IC

Shanghai's first restaurant for pets debuted on Monday. Dishes are only for pets and not pet owners. The restaurant is currently doing a brisk business, with reservations already lined up through August. Photo: IC

Has Spot gone missing? Need to track down a lost gerbil? While Jim Carrey's Ace Ventura may be fictional, the job of pet detective is quite a real one in China, where they are known as xunchongzhe or "pet searchers." 

People in this emerging niche profession use high-tech equipment to track down lost pets and reunite them with their loved ones. 

"It can be a life-saving job, sometimes, especially for those who see their pets as family members," Ailin, a member of a pet searcher team in Beijing that offers services around the country, told the Global Times. 

Ailin, and others like her, use high-tech equipment such as thermal devices and "electric noses" to track down lost pets, mainly dogs and cats, by searching for biological traces such as hair or urine. 

The team heads out as soon as a case is accepted. 

"It is urgent for us to depart immediately after taking a case because the 'golden window' for finding a pet is only 72 hours after it has got lost. So we have to always be ready to set out," added Ailin. 

However, even if the team arrives within this window, there is no guarantee they will be able to track down the missing pet. This can cause some problems as the service is pricey. In Ailin team's case, their general price ranges between 3,000 to 30,000 yuan ($470-4,700) and includes multiple charges such as a service fee and equipment usage. 

"We will waive the service fee if we can't find a pet. We like to be conservative about the possibilities of success with clients, especially before we carry out an initial examination of their situation… but to be honest, arguments do happen," she noted. 

In late 2020, one case became a hot online topic after a pet searcher team was sued by a client, a dog owner, in Beijing's Fengtai district, who asked the local court for a full refund and double compensation because the team had not been able to find the lost pet. 

"As a small growing industry, many things like pricing standards and qualifications are still in a gray zone and need regulation. The pet industry can be rather ruthless in its pricing when people's love gets involved," Wang Mian, a pet industry insider, told the Global Times.   

Even though many people consider the profession as lacking standards, it is still becoming popular in China. 

On Taobao, a Chinese e-commerce platform, there are many various pet searching services available, with the bestselling shop recording more than 100 monthly transactions and over 300 positive reviews on their page. 

"My dog is like a family member to me. Would you consider the cost when it comes to finding your family member?" Cherry, a dog owner, told the Global Times. 

"We do see clients get desperate if they have lost an expensive breed, but what more commonly happens is we track down their teddy bear dog," said Ailin.


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