Skylar, a border collie dog, now has a more extravagant house than most humans. Zhou Tianxiao, a Chinese resident of Beijing, turned an old warehouse into a custom-made doggy mansion. The renovation cost over 3.5 million RMB, almost USD$511,000.
Although it may be surprising at first glance, Zhou did not come from a wealthy background. He grew up in a relatively impoverished environment in one of Beijing’s hutong areas. At the age of six, his parents divorced and left him all alone. Up until four years ago, Zhou lived with his grandma on a small pension.
Zhou’s life seemed to be in tatters for the longest time. Due to familial circumstances, he never had a drive to study and dropped out of middle school. For many years, he would spend his timewasting away in internet cafes; playing videogames, drinking, smoking, and engaging in other self-destructive behaviour.
He went through a tough time where his hope seemed to have all but faded away. Up until he was 26, his one dream was to sit with both of his parents and have a meal together as a family. However, as this belief withered, so did his faith in the world.
However, all this changed when Skylar came into his life. He suddenly stopped playing video games, and cut down on drinking and smoking. Since he had to care for Skylar, he had a reason to become a better person, and to be a good caregiver. “Skylar is like my child,” says Zhou, “I hope my child can have a better childhood than I did.”
He had never had a dog before himself and had no one to guide him, so he taught himself how to train Skylar. He would spend ten hours a day reading information online and then would teach him what he learned. Skylar’s progress gave Zhou a feeling of accomplishment, and it made him want to learn more and more.
When Skylar was a year old, Zhou worried that his best-friend would feel lonely, so he bought a female border collier to keep him company.
Unfortunately, according to Beijing’s pet ownership regulations, it is illegal to have more than two dogs. In addition, Zhou felt that the dogs were too big to enjoy living in a cramped Beijing hutong. So, he decided to borrow 50,000 RMB from his grandmother and moved himself and his dogs outside the city.
Throughout this time, Zhou had started an online store that sells dog food and other pet products. The store blew up and he soon made over 2.5 million RMB (USD$364,884).
However, in the fall of 2017, he decided to spend most of his profits to build a mansion for his beloved canine.
“Many people think I’m great and heroic for doing this. But in fact, I’ve never felt this way. Since I didn’t have a good childhood, I just want my child to have the best life possible.”
Zhou has turned his dog mansion into a business as well. Other owners can bring their dogs and can pay to use the facilities. Dogs can use the pool or the spa, and can even get their fur groomed.
At the moment, the mansion does not earn enough revenue to cover all its operational costs, but Zhou is confident that his business will grow in popularity. “I believe China will see explosive growth in the pet industry in the next 5-10 years,” says Zhou.
As for his relationship with his dogs, Zhou has dedicated his time to give them the best life possible. He often makes sacrifices for his dogs’ happiness, as any father would for their child. He spends most of his time training them or travelling with them around the country. “I think the most valuable quality of a dog is that it will never abandon you,” says Zhou. He feels as if he has finally found the familial bond he has craved his whole life.
“Skylar brought me all of this. He brought me all these changes. So I should give all of it back to him, to let him live a better life.”