Dog-pampering obsessions in Singapore and Hong Kong are symptoms of a demographic time bomb

Insert your own “downward facing dog” joke here.
Insert your own “downward facing dog” joke here.
Image: AP Photo/Kin Cheung
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In Hong Kong and Singapore, it is not unusual to see couples pushing baby strollers that do not contain a baby, but rather a small dog. Sometimes the puppy prams are not wheeled by the dog owners, but by a Filipino or Indonesian domestic helper who has been hired just to look after the pooch.

This extreme level of anthropomorphic dog pampering  is taking place, not surprisingly, in two cities where sky-high high real estate prices and poor parental benefits force many adults to forego what is increasingly viewed as the luxury of having children. The combination of low fertility and the worryingly high prices of homes large enough to raise actual kids —this modest 776 square foot 3-bed in a Hong Kong suburb popular with middle class families rents at $3864 a month—produces some eye-catching luxury businesses catering to canines.

In Singapore, pet owners can buy sailboat cruises and aromatherapy sessions for their companions, the Daily Telegraph reports. Hong Kong has a luxury dog hotel for animals whose owners—sorry, “parents”— cannot bear the thought of leaving them in a mere kennel. Allegedly designed in consultation with an animal psychologist, it has a beauty spa and a shop selling products with names such as “Ultrasonic Hydro Bath”. (Here is a photo gallery of its primped and coiffed guests.)

And let us not forget about the dogs’ religious and spiritual needs. At a recent pet products exhibition in Hong Kong, guests could have their animals proclaimed as Buddhists in what is known as a “gui yi” (皈依) ceremony. And in 2011, a South African yoga instructor in Hong Kong offered “dog yoga”; in Singapore they call it “doga.”

Singapore’s leaders would much rather have people fulfill their need to nurture by having more babies; the city state is facing a dangerous demographic time-bomb with a fertility rate of 1.2 births per woman. In Hong Kong, the figure is only 1.1.

One main reason: Real estate. Property prices have soared in both cities due to low global interest rates, open economies and high interest from wealthy mainland Chinese buyers. Hong Kong flats are nicknamed “shoebox homes“. And while Singapore offers its poorest citizens fantastic public housing, the government is also fighting a property bubble (paywall) that has put home ownership beyond the reach of much of the middle class. Hong Kong and Singapore policymakers also don’t do much to encourage parenthood by providing generous maternity or paternity leave, like France and Sweden.

The situation is unlikely to change anytime soon—which is why a company selling strollers that are custom-made for small dogs could be a great investment idea.