So. The highly responsible and sensible former pop star Victoria Beckham, aged 39 and three-quarters, has bought a Chinese Shar Pei puppy for her children Brooklyn, 14, Romeo 10, Cruz 8 and toddler Harper. She announced on Twitter that this little bundle of joy would be joining her ecommerce family. The cute wrinkly pup’s name is Barnaby. All say: “Awwwww.”
Let’s start with the obvious reasons why expensive difficult dogs make bad pets for celebrities. Contact with Chinese Shar Peis (literally translated “sandy skin” in Cantonese, also known in Chinese as the “yellow dog of China”) often provokes allergic reaction in pampered children with failed immune systems. This is due to the sandpaper-like hair which can be bristly. Secondly, Barnaby may look cute, but this is a Chinese FIGHTING breed. Would Posh buy an American Pit Bull for her brood? I think not. Same difference. As in fight-other-dogs-to-the-death dog. Due to the discomfort of their wrinkles, inverted eyelashes rubbing on their eyes and other consequences of unscrupulous breeding for cuteness, shar peis are often in pain and therefore snappy around humans. And especially small children and toddlers. Shar peis have a mind of their own, are stubborn and suit experienced dog owners. I know. Juju, the (rescued) one asleep on my feet right now, refuses to come when called – even after 11 years and HK$4,000 of dog training. Does “experienced dog owners” sound like La Beckham and her rocket-scientist swain David? Barnaby may look like a stuffed toy, but he is not. The original reason for breeding in the wrinkles was so that when a shar peis’ canine opponent bit it in the neck folds it could turn around literally inside the own loose skin and bite back.
It all started around the 1850s, when the Brits sailed up the Pearl River during the Opium Wars with British bulldogs on board and met the locals with their Chinese Shar Peis. The breed originates in Guangdong, specifically Dalek. The Brits challenged the local Cantonese to dog fights, but the amiable shar peis, which were originally non-aggressive guard and herding dogs, refused to fight. So they cross-bred the shar peis with the more aggressive wrinkled bulldogs and the result was the heavily-wrinkled shar pei monsters you see today. Of course American and British dog breeders have had a hand in exaggerating the loose skin since then, making the shar pei look like a joke “towel dog,” as the Chinese say, but that’s the basic story.
Start paying for your Shar Pei
In short, this is not a good choice for the novice dog owning family. Now for the cost. The US$3,000 (HK$23,000) plus Posh probably paid for Barnaby is just the start. Typically he will have entropion, where the over-wrinkled eyelids roll inwards, making the eyelashes rub on the eyeballs, causing pain, corneal ulcers and then, blindness. Quality surgery – yes, not all vets are the same - to correct this: Hk$10,000 and upwards. Then comes the skin. Those skin folds are a factory for fungal bugs and bacteria, especially in hot and or humid weather, leading to lifelong skin problems and skin infections. If you don’t keep him constantly dry and clean, your shar pei’s skin will resemble a pizza and smell horrible. Not so cute then. Shar peis are also a magnet for allergies, often swelling and itching at the least sign of a mosquito bite or pollen. Ditto ears: small cute crinkly ears lead to chronic infections, requiring antibiotics and even surgery: another HK$10,000 vet bill. On top of the regular heartworm and rabies jabs, expect to visit the vet every month or so for skin tests, (HK$500 per consultation) plus the cost of potions, eye drops, ear drops, special shampoo, etc. Add numerous diseases such as familial shar pei syndrome, the consequence of greedy breeders and you have a perfect storm. Ask any vet: they hear cash registers ringing every time a shar pei walks in. The first time I took mine, his eyes glued together with an infection, the vet looked at me and said: “You might as well buy a new car; this will cost you the same.” And over 11 years, she was right.
One wag, on hearing the news of Posh’s wrinkly arrival, emailed the photo captioned: “Posh’s Dorian Gray Moment.” I’m surprised the image conscious media queen didn’t think of that. This dog does seem to high profile showbiz stars however: the late Paula Yates also had one.
Let’s just hope this doesn’t cause a rush of copycat puppy purchases, but of course it will. And they soon grow out of the cute wrinkles and run up vet bills, which gets them dumped, no longer wanted, at the dog pound. So well done Posh. Smart move. Next time consider a rescued pooch, instead of consigning a few thousand more to puppy mill misery.