The so-called "pet shop street" in the Shilin night market has 10 small pet shops congregated in a narrow hallway off the market, where dozens of puppies, including two beige puppy Labrador retrievers, are piled on top of each other in a glass display case.
"Look! It's Quill! So cute! I wish I could take it home!" said one woman in the crowd of gawkers at the window.
The pet-shop owner held up one of the Labradors and said that "Quill" costs NT$23,000, down already from November, when the Japanese film by the same name was melting hearts nationwide.
Because of the hit movie Quill, a film about a guide dog for the blind that raked in NT$90 million at the local box office, Labradors in Taiwan are now simply called Quills.
The cuddly image of Quill and his loyal spirit have been attributed to a recent trend for Labradors as pets. But what worries animal conservationists and veterinarians is that before long, these cute Labrador puppies will outgrow their owners' apartments and end up roaming the streets or languishing in stray dog centers, waiting to be put down.
The origins of a fad
In 2001, a photographer published The Life of Guide Dog Quill, in which the photographer spent 12 years chronicling Quill's birth, growth, training and eventual death. With its abundant black-and-white photos recording the touching interactions between the dog and his blind masters, the book immediately became a bestseller in Japan.
The book was released in Taiwan in 2002, and by the end of last year, had sold more than 120,000 copies. A children's version of the book was also released and has been widely used as an elementary school textbook.
Last year, the book was adapted to film by director Yoichi Sai.
Japanese national TV channel NHK also produced a seven-hour TV drama titled The Life of Guide Dog Quill (
"There is always a pet trend after a hit movie. A few years ago it was doberman pinschers, then it was old English sheep dogs and dalmatians. Now it's Labrador retrievers," said Huang Ching-jung (
"But in six months to one year's time, there will be a wave of abandoned Labradors," Huang said.
Supply and demand
At Shilin night market, a puppy Labrador costs from NT$18,000 to NT$23,000. In November when the movie was screening, the puppies went for as high as NT$30,000.
"Labradors are not as docile as they appear in the movies. And they are not good watchdogs. They are working dogs," said Huang, a licensed veterinarian.
Huang warned that Labrador retrievers are susceptible to skin diseases and genetic problems with their hip joints. Recently, Huang said, he has seen a jump in the number of people bringing in Labradors for joint problems.
But the hype around breeding and selling Labradors has not abated quite yet. Last month, it was reported in Kaohsiung that a pig-farm owner had sold all his pigs to begin breeding Labradors and cash in on the trend.
The sanitary issues of raising more than 50 Labradors in a pigpen apparently didn't set off any alarms, because with demand so high, all the puppies were sold even before they were born. Some pet-shop owners could not wait for the puppies to reach one month old, nor did they have time to check the puppies' health.