By Jay Scott Kanes
HONG KONG CONVENTION AND EXHIBITION CENTRE – An important building for business, the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) juts into Victoria Harbor from the Wan Chai waterfront. Many of Asia's biggest trade fairs and consumer shows happen there.
Usually live animals aren't welcome in the HKCEC. But on special occasions, a massive exhibition hall echoes with yips, yaps and woofs from dogs of all sizes and breeds. A few courageous cats accompany their humans too, joining thousands of people and hundreds of dogs in the venue.
At the 7th Hong Kong Pet Show there from February 3-5, I also encountered parrots, rabbits, turtles and snakes. This event focuses on the pet-business. Open to pet-industry professionals and the public, it's about appreciating companion animals, feeding and caring for them and promoting related products or services.
Many show participants and visitors bring along their pets. For a few days the normally animal-barren HKCEC contains more pets than almost any building in the world. Even the smell of the place changes slightly, turning more barn-like.
The recent show had more than 100 exhibitors, including pet-food companies, veterinarians, suppliers of pet-fashions and accessories, obedience trainers and animal-welfare organizations. New-style merchandise for sale ranged from pet-clothing, dog houses, pet-travel cases and backpacks for dogs to cat-scratch posts, kitty litter and special vacuum-cleaners to cope with fur.
Some companies and booths had pet-friendly names like Happy Paws, Biscuit House and Doggie Goodie. Many signs proclaimed slogans. One said: “It's not pet-food. It's food. For pets.” Another insisted: “It's time for a new chapter in cat furniture.”
People want healthy pets so the displays highlighted words like “natural” and “holistic”. At the opposite extreme, one exhibitor sold Australian pet-food with an unsavory name: RAW BARF. Business development executive Benjamin Seeto, from the distributor Prime Reef International Ltd, blamed the yucky name on “the Australian sense of humor". It stands for Restoring Animal Wellness (RAW) with Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (BARF). Among the ingredients are kangaroo, rabbit, chicken, beef, turkey, lamb and pork.
“The idea is to create pet-food that's not all that processed,” Benjamin said. “Being fresher with no preservatives, it needs refrigeration.”
Stacks of canned pet-food towered on many tables. Behind some of these, chopsticks went into motion as the vendors assailed their own lunches. Not from cans, these meals consisted of noodles or rice.
The show opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and an explosion of flying glitter. Humans wielded the scissors. If animals had done so, the opening festivities would have impressed even more.
Later animal-talent shows and beauty contests took place on a special stage near the exhibition booths. Felines competed in a Valentine's Day Championship Cat Show. One exhibitor, the Chinese-language Season magazine (for human readers, but about pets), conducted a Next Top Dog Model Contest and the Hong Kong Top 10 For Pets Awards.
“We have a Next Top Dog Model Contest every three months,” said Seasons marketing executive Rita Lam. “Here at the Hong Kong Pet Show, there are about 20 contestants. The winner gets lots of prizes because we have strong sponsorship.”
Most HKCEC events cater to traders or to consumers, but the Hong Kong Pet Show invites both groups. The real consumers aren't people who buy the products so much as the pets who eat the foods and treats, swallow the medicines and wear the collars or clothing.
So bringing pets to the event makes sense. Then the animals can sample tastes, try on hats or garments, rest on beds and test other products, maybe prompting their humans to buy.
Dogs, always the pets most visible on the streets and used to regular excursions, dominated the place. Leashed dogs trailed after their people. Some, mostly tiny, romped free along the aisles. Others moved in supreme comfort, pushed in carriages or carried. I noticed a poodle, its head poking from a man's shoulder-bag.
Uneasy dogs peered up from the floor, watching warily as their humans shopped for “doggie fashions”. Reluctantly, many tried on new hats or coats.
What stylish canines! Many of them had arrived smartly “dressed", even before their humans started to shop for new outfits. Two tiny dogs in tiger-print coats strolled past. A poodle sported a garment shaped like a red fish. At a booth called Happy Pet Fashion, another poodle wore a Winnie the Pooh shirt and blue jeans. There were countless frilly dresses. Macho little dogs wore tiny cowboy hats or “police-dog” jackets. Never before had I seen so many costumed dogs together in one place.
Some pets looked incredulous as if hardly believing what their humans had them wearing. I even noticed a woman whose skirt (blue with white dots) exactly matched a much smaller one worn by her tiny dog.
One booth sold ornate pet-jewelry, notably diamond-like necklaces. A sign at another indicated that winter pet-clothes cost more than those for summer.
Seeing pets in clothes (or jewelry) always makes me grimace. Knowing that dogs and cats already wear ideal fur, I believe they need nothing more, not for warmth or fashion. The idea of pet-clothing strikes me as silly, but many people at the Hong Kong Pet Show strongly disagreed.
Other dogs, less decked out, focused on performance and looked eager to show what they could do. I watched a small brown-and-white mutt named Murphy, affiliated with a dog-training “college”, entertain a crowd by balancing and walking on a big inflated ball.
All around, dogs greeted each other, sniffing at snouts and butts, as the humans shopped. To them, it looked like a fine time to socialize, one big party.
A medium-sized brown dog had the name Misu colored in large print on its side. The animal's guardian called that a precaution since Misu tends to wander off and get lost. Another pet, a poodle, had blue, yellow and purple highlights on its ears, feet, back and tail. “We used a special fur-dye product for pets,” said one of the humans responsible.
Not all the dogs accompanied visitors. Some collaborated with the exhibitors, standing on tables ready to help with demonstrations and sales pitches.
Conscientious dog-owners carried newspapers, ideally those with a pro-Beijing editorial slant. If nature called for their pets, these people hastily placed pages on the floor to minimize damage. Then they bundled up the droppings and placed them in rubbish bins.
A squad of cleaning ladies with brooms and dust-trays patrolled the premises too. At several locations, I saw temporary dog toilets (huge boxes full of sand), but the messiest individuals turned out to be human. Plastic bags, drink boxes, leaflets and other litter soon cluttered some dog toilets, hindering the intended purpose.
Amid so many dogs, a few cats and other animals stayed safely in the embrace of human arms. When I admired an impressive feline, a big, yellow-and-white guy with a flat nose, his owner Mandy introduced him as “Burger".
“Want to hold him?” Mandy asked. Having rarely met a cat I didn't like, I accepted her offer. For a few moments, 11-month-old Burger and I became friends. To me, it represented a highlight of the show. I don't know if Burger felt the same.
Mingling with so many animals triggered powerful photographic urges. More than a few exhibitors had set up small studios. Along the aisles, visitors shot dog-pictures in all directions. Many of the subjects, trained and experienced as models, struck special poses.
After busy visits to the show, both humans and pets began to look weary. At the edges of the hall, dogs flopped on the floor as their guardians sat on chairs or leaned against walls. Some people carried tuckered canines whose tongues dangled. By then, the dogs in carriages shared space with big shopping bags.
From start to finish, the Hong Kong Pet Show proved that large numbers of Hong Kong people dearly love their animals, often treating them better than children. The business of caring for pets is a fast-growing and substantial industry. It's big business indeed.
Behind stacks of canned pet-food,
chopsticks go into motion.
Pets perch in the audience. Here for a cat show?
An uneasy dog peers up as humans shop.
Some pets look incredulous, as if hardly able to
what their humans have them wearing.
Careful! Don't step on the little guys.
A trained model strikes a nice pose to please fans.
Beasts of burden wear doggy backpacks.
Human litter clutters a dog toilet,
hindering the intended purpose.