Thu, Feb 17, 2005 - Page 13 News List

Haute dogs all the rage

By David Momphard  /  STAFF REPORTER


A country once said to be too poor to afford pets has been collared by canines. In a city where you could once buy dog meat from street-side stalls you're more likely to find dog sweaters or rain slickers. Has Taipei gone barking mad? "It started with a Santa Claus suit last December," said Lee -- whose two-year-old beagle, Tom Cruise, sat dressed in a rice-colored cable-knit sweater.

"I was walking Tom-Tom in the east district and a woman was selling dog clothes on the side of the road." Lee said the woman's cardboard box inventory contained several coats for toy-sized dogs and a few articles for larger dogs.

"It was really cold. I was looking at the little sweaters and she wrapped the Santa outfit around him. He looked adorable! And it was only NT$100," Lee said. "It had a Santa hat, too."

The coat became required on every walk Tom-Tom took that month and, when Christmas passed long before the cold weather, Lee said the pup's wardrobe grew to two then three coats, a few sweaters and a rain jacket.

"He refuses to go outside in the rain," Lee said. "So I thought: `Get him a rain jacket.' It didn't work." Lee is one of hundreds, perhaps thousands of pet owners -- "hosts" in Chinese -- who have taken to outfitting their dogs in sweaters, coats, t-shirts and occasionally even boots or sunglasses.

Even a year ago such items were hard to find in Taipei, but a boom in pet ownership has caused a spike in sales. And as was the case with Lee and Tom Cruise, most pet owners outfit their pooches with side-of-the-road purchases.

Xiao Jen is one such purveyor of canine couture. For two years she has displayed her wares on Chungxiao East or Dunhua South roads -- a combination of handbags and ladies' clothing.

"I sell women's sweaters in the winter time, of course," she said. "But most people just look. They can't try on anything. Then I saw someone else selling sweaters for dogs and I thought, `Of course!' Everyone has to walk their dog and none of the dogs are wearing clothes -- at least they weren't then. Now I sell twice as many clothes for dogs as I do ladies' sweaters or handbags."

Most pet owners seem content with the selection offered by canine clothiers like Xiao Jen, but a few confessed to being swept away by a desire to see their pet in a variety of different outfits -- call it a "petish." For enthusiasts like these, online emporiums offer designer-brand outfits and accessories: leather bombardier jackets, a Louis Vuitton collar-and-leash combination or Swarovski crystal pendants.

"I checked out some of the places on the Web where you can buy clothes for dogs," said a woman who gave her name as Ms Chang. She was found walking a golden retriever who was wearing a smart-looking plaid vest. "There's a better selection than you can find in Taiwan, but the shipping charges make everything too expensive. I don't want to buy a genuine LV collar, but if I saw one in the night market, I'd buy it." While seeing dogs wear clothes is a pet peeve for some, others suggest it's a status symbol.

"When I grew up, we were told that our relatives in mainland China had only banana peels to eat. And if we didn't work hard, that's what we'd be eating, too," said Jack Chi (紀華鵬), who owns a pet store on Taipei's Ningxia Street. For the past several weeks he's dragged a palate of dog coats out of his storefront in the evening, when his street becomes a bustling night market. By his own account he has outfitted most of the dogs in his neighborhood.

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