It's noon and the sun shines brightly into a yard surrounded by low brick walls. The Afu Kennel, located in Beijing's Shunyi district, is not easy to find, but once you enter the old iron gate you will find yourself in a Labrador wonderland.
Beijinger, Meng Fan, the owner of the 6,600-square-meter space, bought the place so he could create a pleasant living environment for his beloved dogs. It has trees all around and he even built a pool in the center because "Labradors love swimming".
Meng fell in love with this exceptional breed seven years ago and the kennel is now regarded as the biggest in China for purebred Labradors.
Meng's enthusiasm for this "exceptionally gentle" breed is also reflected in his strict breeding standards.
"Each of my dogs has a pedigree certificate recognized by the Federation Cynologique Internationale, the world canine organization; as well as an implanted microchip ID, in case it gets lost," Meng said, "and all the puppies are vaccinated."
For Meng, pedigree certification is a battle to save the breed, as without it there will be "no pure Labradors at all".
Afu now has more than 80 adult dogs including about 60 females. It sells around 200 puppies each year.
Meng's customers come from all over the country; many of them have left a strong impression.
"You would never imagine that some bosses who drive luxury cars would cry when they drop their puppy at my place for a month's training," he said.
"Then, when the training has finished, the whole family, including grandpa and grandma, come to pick up their furry baby and celebrate - these are real dog lovers."
We left Meng playing with some of his dogs in the sun-dappled yard. It was a lovely scene but we had to head to our next destination, Hairun Kennel, a renowned Golden Retriever kennel at the China Kennel Club in Tongzhou district.
Golden Retrievers are probably the most popular big dogs in town, and according to 48-year-old Beijinger Liu Zaichun, Hairun's owner, it is the most popular breed worldwide because the dogs "are very close to people".
The 3,300-sq-m compound holds more than 100 dogs including puppies; it is divided into indoor and outdoor areas, and all the dogs' rooms have air conditioners.
Liu was not particularly talkative, until his star dog "Mickey" rose quietly in the corner of the room. Liu gently patted the dog's back and said: "I'm not good at talking, but about dogs I can say a lot."
During the interview, a buyer from Wenzhou, Zhejiang province came to visit. He told METRO he flies here every month to see dogs; within a year he has already bought more than 10 dogs from Liu's kennel and they have won several medals in Zhejiang already.
The businessman loves participating in dog shows and said he has trained several breeds of dogs before but none of them won any prizes. The situation changed once he bought a Golden Retriever from Liu a year ago; and better yet, he hasn't failed since.
"Liu must have the best Golden Retrievers in the country," he said.
When asked about his secret for raising dogs, Liu said he always makes sure each is taken good care of.
"Although I also hire workers in the kennel to look after them, I play with each of them personally every day," he said.
"I would rather sell my dog to true dog lovers at a discount price than to a dog dealer who intends to make money out of it at full price," he added.
The sun was starting to set as we head to our final destination of the day, Anna Kennel, a kennel for Chow Chow, also in Tongzhou district.
Its owner Yang Ling used to be a successful businesswoman in the steel industry. The Beijinger stands out among kennel owners, the majority of whom are men. The 51-year-old looks much younger than her age, which she attributes to her dogs.
Yang describes herself as perfectionist: ever since she bought two Chow Chows from Russia in the late 1990s, she has never stopped trying to breed the best Chow Chows.
Take dog food for example, at her kennel a mature female dog has specialized foods during the rut, pregnancy and lactation. The food is all imported, mainly from the United States, France, Britain and Brazil.
Yang said her breeding program is very strict, her female dogs are only allowed to give birth when they are older than 2 and younger than 5 years old, "the best breeding age" according to Yang. As a result, her more than 40 adult females deliver only 30 puppies each year.
Yang's most famous dog is called "King Kong". He beat 7,500 other dogs and won an all breed championship in the US in 2009. Dog News magazine published a full page of Yang and King Kong with a Chinese introduction.
It made Yang really proud.
"You know Chow Chows originate from China, but the best are in the US and all the purebred Chow Chows in China over the past few years have been imported, so I'm really happy that a dog bred by myself could achieve such success," she said.