Stylish dogs rule the catwalks of Shanghai's streets

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Poodles in pink dresses, Pekinese wearing shirts, a Pomeranian in sneakers and a raincoat -- the sidewalks of Shanghai can sometimes seem like catwalks gone to the dogs

Poodles in pink dresses, Pekinese wearing blouses, a Pomeranian in sneakers and a raincoat -- Shanghai's sidewalks can sometimes seem like fashion catwalks gone to the dogs.

Chinese adore their pet canines, often dressing them up in eye-catching outfits, and nowhere are such furry fashionistas more conspicuous than in China's commercial hub.

"Pet owners like to dress up their pets, the way they would their own children," said a woman surnamed Huang as she walked her two fluffy brown poodles, one with a pink bowtie and the other wearing a blue one, through a central Shanghai neighbourhood.

Or rather they walked her -- riding in a baby stroller as Huang pushed.

It's big business too.

At least 40 percent of pet merchants in China sell pet clothing, according to Yourpet Market Research Institute, which studies the country's huge pet industry.

The industry overall generates sales of around $17 billion per year and is expected to grow by 20 percent annually, it said in a report last year.

"Millennials are becoming the main customers with their consumer power growing," it said.

Zhang Jiequn, a psychologist at Shanghai's Huada Institute of Applied Psychology, said that for many Chinese, pet ownership "is a kind of escape from interpersonal relationships."

"The pet becomes a projection of the opposite sex for some people who do not find a partner," she told AFP.

Dog ownership rates have grown along with China's fast-expanding middle class.

A 2015 survey cited by the state-run China Daily said there were at least 100 million registered pets in China, with dogs making up the vast majority, and that pet ownership was growing by 10 percent annually.

Shanghai -- which has 24 million people -- also has an estimated pet dog population of up to one million.

The high rate of dog ownership prompted the city in 2011 to impose a "one-dog policy" -- limiting owners to a single canine -- to curb noisy barking, waste on sidewalks and dog attacks.