An increasing number of cafes and other businesses in Taiwan are keeping animals, which draw in people who are seeking the next perfect shot for their Instagram accounts.
In the past these were mostly standard house pets, such as cats and dogs, which are accustomed to living indoors and being around people.
However, raccoons have become popular, as well as alpacas and other “unusual” animals that require specialty care and specific environments to thrive.
In late June, a customer recorded a video of the owner of a coffee shop in Taipei apparently unleashing a border collie on a raccoon, who was the star attraction at the business. When other allegations of abuse surfaced, the Animal Protection Office took away the raccoon and fined the owner, who later apologized to the public.
While it is legal to own a raccoon in Taiwan and there are the Regulations Governing the Management of Performing Animals (動物展演管理辦法), it is difficult to apply those rules to pets at cafes, Taipei City Councilor Yang Ching-yu (楊靜宇) said on Friday last week.
Yang, a veterinarian, urged the city to introduce an ordinance regulating how to treat animals in workplaces to prevent abuse, as fining people is not enough of a deterrent.
On Monday, Taichung City Councilor Huang Shou-ta (黃守達) cited accounts of raccoons at stores self-harming or exhibiting repetitive behavior due to inadequate space, and rabbits huddling in fear after prolonged close contact with people.
There are only two firms in Taichung that have licenses for performing animals, but there are numerous stores that use animals to attract customers in scenarios that fall outside the law.
Huang said that unless the animals are blatantly abused and kept in poor conditions, there is nothing the city can do.
The majority of business owners with in-store animals love them and have done their homework about providing adequate care, but due to Instagram’s explosive popularity, such businesses are becoming extremely lucrative. As the trend grows and more people jump on the bandwagon to make a quick buck, there will only be more cases of malpractice. How many people know how to care for a raccoon or an alpaca?
Regulations are definitely needed, but as several experts said in response to Yang’s report, they would be tricky to enforce. Some owners might not be using the animals to promote their business, but simply have pets at work or care for strays. Requirements and sanctions need to be clearly laid out so there is as little ambiguity as possible, and city resources are not wasted.
There should be limitations on what kinds of animal can be kept at a store, otherwise unscrupulous owners might keep acquiring increasingly unusual and difficult to care for pets as gimmicks to stand out among the competition.
Raccoons are difficult enough. In mating season, the males become territorial and aggressive, so they must be kept away from people.
More importantly, requiring an application to own such an animal, introducing licensing and enforcing animal welfare courses for specific animals before a business can use an animal to attract customers would at least make people think twice before doing so.
This would bring awareness that people cannot treat animals however they want.
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