Matilda the basset hound.

LAST APRIL, I MET A YOUNG, well-educated student from China who told me what a grand time he was having here in Portland, studying engineering, going to Blazers games, and learning such quaint American customs as “going dutch.”  The one thing this new city lacked, he told me, was his favorite dish: roast dog. Offering a bit of friendly advice, I suggested he avoid advertising this culinary preference in Portland.

Here, I explained, dogs are revered as pets, a bit like cows in India—not that we are like India, I carefully hedged, or that there is anything wrong with India. Not to worry, he replied: Chairman Mao banned pets as symbols of “bourgeois decadence” in the 1960s, but companion dogs have more recently become all the rage among the country’s newly minted affluent class. Nonetheless, the rising popularity of pets has failed to curb regional appetites for dog meat, which is considered in some parts of the country to be very nutritious—and an aphrodisiac to boot. So last winter, when members of the Chinese government, backed by animal welfare activists, proposed legislation that would allow individual provinces to ban the slaughter of dogs, the nation became embroiled in a debate about whether people can have their pets and eat them too.

The Chinese dilemma of the dog reflects various sea changes occurring in that nation—economic, social, and psychological. But in the United States, attitudes toward dogs are also undergoing a cultural revolution that similarly underscores our own shifting nature. As a stroll past businesses such as Dogs Dig It, the Hip Hound, or LexiDog Boutique & Social Club will reveal, Portland is leading the canine strut.