Booming pet trade fuels urban tensions

By Quang Huong, Xanh Le   May 10, 2024 | 06:55 pm PT
Amid escalating tensions between neighbors in urban areas, the growing pet trade exposes a critical regulatory gap, underscoring the urgent need for noise and cleanliness guidelines.

Cao Thanh, a resident in Ha Dong District of Hanoi, has gone from keeping a few dogs as pets to trading the animals. Thanh now has 30 dogs as part of her commercial enterprise.

Over her four years in the dog trading business, she has frequently clashed with her neighbors, and the conflicts have worsened over time.

There was no issue initially when Thanh kept just a few dogs.

However, as the number of dogs grew, so did the noise and odor, especially on days when she did not clean up adequately.

"In the past, I only kept a few dogs because I loved them," she said. "But then gradually I became a dealer. When I had fewer, they were well taken care of and not noisy or smelly. But now, I sometimes do not have enough time to look after each of them."

Thanh said that even if one dog defecates and she does not have enough time to clean it up promptly, odors quickly begin to resonate.

Regarding the noise, Thanh said she currently has only poodles, which are small-sized dogs, but when one starts barking, the rest join in and the cacophony quickly turns into chaos, which is when the neighbors really get bothered.

Thanh's neighbors have become increasingly irritated by the disruptions Thanh’s business causes in their lives, with nonstop complaints about noise and mess.

She acknowledges that urban life in the city is inherently noisy and chaotic compared to the countryside, but argues that her business's impact is only annoying, not harmful to health. Thanh remains committed to her enterprise despite the ongoing disputes and dissatisfaction expressed by those around her.

Thanh admits she should be responsible for her neighbors' frustration, but expressed that she has felt wronged more than a few times when the neighbors rushed to blame her every time there is dog waste in the residential area's shared space.

"They even told me if they see any of my dogs on their property, they'd kill it."

On some of these occasions Thanh has picked up a quarrel with her neighbors, which has only ended up making things worse.

"In general, it [this business] is a lot of pressure," she said.

Thanh claimed that "my dogs are valuable, and I never let them out [to defecate]. I only take them out of my house once a month, and on those occasions, I always watch them carefully to make sure that if they defecate I clean up the mess immediately."

Despite facing criticism and disapproval from most of those around her, Thanh says she's willing to "fight to protect her business," which she said brings in tens to hundreds of millions of Vietnamese dong each month. (VND10 million = US$395).

"It’s a business, and I will just have to deal with it."

She rationalized her business by saying that the nature of the city is noisy and if one wants peace, one can only find it in the countryside.

"I admit I contribute to the noise, but I'm upfront about it: life here [in the city] is tough. There are also those factories out there affecting people’s lives for profit, too, but what can you do? At least the smell from the dogs is just annoying, not harmful to health," she said.

Owners play with their pet dogs at a park in Hanoi in 2022. Photo by Tung Dinh

Owners play with their pet dogs at a park in Hanoi in 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Tung Dinh

In recent years, with rising income and living standards, the pet community in Vietnam has rapidly grown. Pets and related services have become a lucrative business sector.

Data from international market research firm Euromonitor shows that Vietnam currently has about 28 million pets, including 11.8 million dogs and cats, with the number of dogs and cats growing by over 6.8% annually.

The pet care industry in Vietnam produced a turnover of US$500 million in 2022, with an expected growth rate of 11% per year, Euromonitor said.

Nguyen Van Dang, an expert in business administration and policy, noted that profits from the pet industry have driven the formation of a new urban trend: keeping pets in apartments for business purposes.

He mentioned that recent incidents have shown that legal regulations may not yet be in place to address this emerging issue.

"It is a new trend in cities today that people raise pets in apartments with the purpose of doing business. The trend has just appeared recently and so there might not be legal regulations yet."

Profits vs. politeness

Phat Dat in Da Nang City earns billions of dong each year from raising and selling pets, and said he accepts the pressure from his neighbors.

"There are complaints about them being noisy, which disturbs people's sleep. Then there's the matter of their waste—people smell it and also complain to me. They even threatened to report it to the authorities."

"I have to clean the waste [of the dogs] every day. I do so not once but two or three times a day. It brings in an income for me, so I have to do it."

Dat shared that he has a Corgi who gave birth twice with 12 puppies in one year.

He sold one of such puppies at VND5 million (US$197), which means he can earn VND60 million raising just one Corgi.

According to official statistics, Ho Chi Minh City currently has nearly 106,000 households raising about 184,000 dogs and cats, over 65% of which are in the inner-city districts with limited space.

In several cases, people keep a large number of pets and claim that they are "rescue centers" or "animal foster agencies" to seek sponsorship. However, regulatory bodies have been unable to address such issues for decades.

Regulatory ideas

Dang said it is necessary to clearly define the regulations between keeping dogs and cats as pets and for business purposes, and to strictly limit the number of animals allowed for each.

At the same time, people should be banned from raising pets for profits in residential areas, he argued.

"When the common interest of the community is affected, the authorities have to step in and enforce regulations on how many dogs, chickens, birds, and turtles each family can have. For example, based on a four-person household, a family might only be allowed to keep no more than four dogs. If you want to do business, you have to rent a place elsewhere for that," Dang said.

A man raises poodle for sale at a facility in Hoang Mai District of Hanoi in 2022. Photo by Anh Phu

A man raises poodles for sale at a facility in Hoang Mai District of Hanoi in 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Anh Phu

To limit the situation in which dogs and cats might create noise and affect public hygiene, the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Agriculture and Rural Development proposed in March that residents wishing to own dogs or cats must register the animals with their commune/ward People's Committee.

In a proposal sent to the city’s People's Committee, the department said pet owners must declare their pets with district authorities, and that declarations must be made twice a year.

The proposal, which is still under discussion, also encourages pet owners to implant microchips or miniaturized integrated circuits in their pets to facilitate the management of breeding information, vaccinations, and quarantine transportation.

According to policy expert Dang, the business of raising dogs and cats is becoming attractive while the law has not kept up with market trends, causing frustration in the community.

"There are two issues: one is misusing the function of the house, and the other is seeking profit. I respect your business, but if it impacts others, forcing them to unwilling pay the price for your own benefits is unreasonable.

"The function of an apartment building is for human habitation, not for business activities, especially not for breeding businesses. This is a distasteful matter, as the house is not a breeding facility."

The issue here is that there are no legal or administrative regulations limiting the number of pets in an apartment, he said, adding the only current solution available is mediating between pet owners and neighbors to avoid conflicts.

Struggling between personal interests and keeping those around him from getting fed up, Dat seeks reconciliation by sending gifts to his neighbors and inviting them for drinks.

"It's partly our fault too, but if we [people earning profits from raising and selling pets] are friendly to everyone, then people are more tolerant and patient," he said.

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