Shanghai's first Doga class was held on Sunday June 5. Photo courtesy of V Cleanse

Shanghai’s first Doga class was held on Sunday June 5. Photo courtesy of V Cleanse.

Downward-facing dog gained new meaning among yoga enthusiasts in Shanghai on Sunday when mainland China’s first ‘Doga’ – yoga with your dog – was held on a rooftop space in Pudong. Some 100 practitioners of the discipline gathered with pup, pooch or mastiff in tow, working through a series of poses that had them massage and stretch their furry friends – most of whom joined in without much complaint (read: barking).

If it sounds like just another craze among well-heeled, middle-class yogis and canine lovers, well, in part it is. The practice first started in the US almost a decade ago as a way for pet owners to release daily stress while enjoying the company of Fido, most times through rather pricey sessions in even pricier yoga studios. It rapidly expanded to other countries – France, the UK, Taiwan, you name it – often to surprising popularity: earlier this January, Hong Kong set a world record for the largest Doga class when 270 pet owners and their respective dogs practiced together for over half an hour (the previous record for the biggest Doga event was set in San Diego, California, in 2015, with 265 pairs of puppies and humans).

The debut of Doga in Shanghai offered more than a new-millennium way of bonding between pets and humans, however. Co-organized by non-profit ThinkAdoption and V Cleanse, China’s first juice cleanse company, the event’s main goal was in fact to raise awareness of animal adoption and wellbeing. “The idea was to support the cause of pet adoptions in a light-hearted way,” says V Cleanse co-founder and co-CEO Tian Tian Mayimin. “Which is something many dog and cat owners in China still have to embrace.”

The idea of animal welfare was only introduced to China in the 1990s, and, while movements toward the protection and support of animals have expanded immensely over the last few years, activists have still a long road ahead, as practices like the Dog Meat Festival in the southwestern city of Yulin continue to take place (this year’s instalment is slated for June 21).

That’s not to say China’s middle and upper classes don’t love their pets. But in a society where status symbols still reign, breeds often trump strays.