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Young Chinese couple's dog obsession: They are our family and our career

Cui Pengwei (崔鹏伟) and Cui Jia (崔佳) are just like any other post-80s couple in China. They like to watch Hollywood blockbusters, go out to eat at fancy restaurants and sing Karaoke. However, they both have rather unusual jobs. He is a dog trainer and she is a dog groomer.

Cui Pengwei and Cui Jia pose with their dogs Baozhu, Dabao and Lever. Photo: Dingyi/ sino-us.com

When you enter their little shop at Beijing’s southern suburban Fengtai district, which is lovingly called Beijing Pet Care Center (北京关爱宠物中心), you could be greeted by any of their eight dogs: two black and white Alsakas, one Alsatian-like Chinese shepherd dog, one American Eskimo, three bichons and one poodle called "Noodle".

“They are our children,” the couple said repeatedly, particularly Cui Jia, who often refers to the dogs as "my dear boy" or "my lovely girl" instead of their names. In fact, other than one of their Alsakas "Lever" and one of their bichons “Dabao” who they raised, most of the other dogs were either dumped on them by their customers or rescued by them from vets.

"What can you do?" Cui Pengwei said, "But we've reached our limit, otherwise we cannot guarantee the quality of their lives. We'll take care of them until they pass away. Then we'll adopt more."

The couple's little shop, which specializes in dog training and dog grooming, opened two years ago. In the two years, they have not only successfully established their name as professional dog trainer and groomer, they have also cultivated a loyal customer base which includes dog owners from cities as far north as Dalian.

Opening this shop was a brave move for the couple since neither of them had done this kind of work before. Cui Pengwei studied Logistics Management in Japan and worked in various roles in sales and marketing. Cui Jia worked mostly as an administrative assistant for a number of different employers.

"I decided to do this because of my love for dogs," Cui Pengwei admitted. "My family had dogs since I was a little boy. I first started to learn about dog training and pet business when I was in Japan 10 years ago. Then I went to the US about seven years ago to learn the skills and methods from a dog trainer in New York City who I met through a friend. But I didn’t start right away when I came back to China because I had to find an experienced trainer who could help me to put the theories I had learnt into practice.”

Cui Jia and Baozhu. Photo: Dingyi/sino-us.com

It was not just the help of a dog trainer he needed to start his pet business, but also the support of a loved one. He first met Cui Jia four years ago while he was still working at a media company as a marketing manager. He interviewed her for a job as his assistant. “He didn’t impress me at all at the time,” Cui Jia laughed. And she did not take the job offered to her by Cui Pengwei, who liked her at first sight.

Perhaps it was simply meant to be. Six months after the star-crossed job interview, Cui Pengwei and Cui Jia met online and the two hit it off right away. “We just met on QQ (a popular instant messaging system in China).” Having told their miraculous “reunion” countless times, Cui Jia still hasn’t lost her appetite to tell the story. She joked, “For us, second time is the charm. And now I am his ‘secretary for life'.

Cui Jia is a fervent dog lover; however she never had dogs in her life until she met her husband. “It was really this shared love for dogs that brought us together,” smiled Cui Pengwei. “And it was a joint decision that we are going to pursue this together.”

Cui Jia became a dog groomer a year ago because of the growing demand from their customers. “I had to do it myself because our hired groomers were rushing off their feet but still could not keep up with the work that poured in. So I enrolled myself in a school in Beijing, learnt  my trade, and started doing it myself. I am so happy that I did because I love it,” Cui Jia said. “You cannot imagine the fulfillment dog grooming brings unless you do it yourself.”

Cui Jia grooming her dog Dabao. Photo: Dingyi/ sino-us.com

But interest is not enough to run a business, which they both know. Cui Pengwei has grand plans for his little shop. “I see great potential and future for this business in China since the market is still at its initial stage. In the US, they have at least three or four generations of people who are in the pet business. But here in China, we are just starting.”

“Everything we have here in China in the pet industry comes from the West, including dog training,” Cui Pengwei said. “We have a lot of localization to do. In addition, the Chinese public needs to be educated on the correct ways of keeping dogs as pets. All of these create business opportunities for me.”

Together with Wang Shangfei, a retired dog trainer from the Beijing transportation police dog unit, Cui Pengwei put what he had learned over the years about dog training into practice, which soon proved to be effective and popular. “We relied mostly on the word of mouth,” Cui said. “And we also provide consultative services to our customers who need help. We are supposed to charge for it, but in reality, we often do it for free.”

The love for dogs is also a source of the couple’s charitable spirit. Besides sheltering the rescued dogs and helping them find new homes, they are also partners of the famous charity organization Beijing Adoption Day. They provide free training sessions for the rescued dogs and help them to get re-socialized with their human friends.

“As a matter of fact, the problems the dog owners have with their dogs could be solved with just a few sessions. In some cases, one session is enough, which costs only 100 yuan. A couple of hundred yuan in exchange for a problem-free dog and a trouble-free living, I don’t think that is a heavy price to pay. And all of our customers can see that now,” Cui Pengwei said.

“What I want to do is to help promote the scientific way for people to live a happy life with their dogs. All dog owners should receive basic training, for their own sake as well as for the sake of their dogs. Almost all the behavioral problems the dogs might have could be avoided with the basic training at an early stage of their life. The owner and their dog could enjoy a much better life together.”

Photos on a wall at Cui Pengwei and Cui Jia's Pet Care Center. Photo: Dingyi/ sino-us.com

However, Cui Pengwei admitted that there is a long way to go to achieve what he wants. “We have a lot of problems, from the negative Chinese attitude towards dogs, to the lack of proper government supervision and legal protection of people in the pet industry. But I believe things will get better.”

Cui Pengwei remained calm and composed, rather Zen-like, even when he talked about things that clearly upset him. “I try to do the right thing. If I see that my customers are treating their dogs badly, I try my best to reason with them and change them. However, there are always people who refuse to mend their ways. I have no other option but to deny them my service.”

He went on, “In China, without proper supervision, the pet industry operates entirely on the good hearts and self-discipline of the people. In our shop, we only sell legal and certified pet products and pet food. Surely I do business to make money. But I am not in it only for the money. I am in it mostly because I love dogs. I will always try and do the right thing.”

Inside Cui Pengwei and Cui Jia's little shop. Photo: Dingyi/ sino-us.com

“I hope we could be something of a pioneer in the Chinese pet industry. I want to build my own chain,” Cui continued in his usual Zenic fashion as he talks about his future plans, “I run my store with the same concept and method as our American counterparts but with adjustments to suit the Chinese market. I believe we are on the right track.”

Cui Jia mostly listened as her husband talked, agreeing and nodding along. Occasionally she jumped in with a comment so out of the blue that it made us all laugh. “Do you know that Xi Zong (short for CPC Secretary-General Xi Jinping) has dogs too?” she exclaimed, “He said that himself last year when he visited America. I think it’s great. I hope it is good news for the Chinese pet industry.”

Dogs are our family and our career. Photo: Dingyi; edited by Steve Zhao/ sino-us.com

The couple who just got married in June are mostly happy with their life running their shop. The only regret seems to be that they now have less time to go skiing together, another shared hobby of theirs. About their future life, they had a rather unusual but adorable picture in their heads. “When we have children, they will be the happiest kids in the world,” Cui Pengwei said with a big smile, “Just picture our children going out riding our Alaskas with a team of dog guards following suit. How cool is that!”


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