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TAIPEI (Reuters Life!) - Taipei's dogs are living it up at hotels, complete with VIP suites and pools, that aim to ease the problem of strays that has plagued the city for decades.
Hoping to discourage people from dumping unwanted pets on the streets, two Taipei proprietors have opened giant hotels dedicated to dogs, with pools, salons, classes and playrooms.
The hotels offer an alternative to pet owners who lack the time or space to look after dogs and who can pay the room rate of $14 a day plus food, which is more expensive than home care but affordable to the average Taipei family.
"It's just like day care for children," said Kevin Lin, a former Wall Street employee who now owns the luxury Pet's Dream Park hotel. "A major reason I opened this business is to ease the stray dog problem."
Stray dogs may be a common sigh in poor, less developed countries, but more affluent Taiwan's cities also teem with them, with official figures showing there are about 180,000 living on the island of 23 million people.
In the 1980s, when Taiwan saw a boom in pets following its economic success, people would buy puppies without expecting them to grow bigger and then abandon the adult animals.
Rescue shelters and private individuals in Taipei also offer basic pet boarding services, but Pet's Dream Park and its suburban competitor, Little Treasure Pet Lodging and Comfort School, offer a deluxe alternative.
"I've seen small dogs kept in cages and wondered why if people can live in such nice surroundings dogs can't also," said Yao Pen-thun, owner of the Little Treasure hotel.
Some customers leave their animals for months at a times as business travel requires long stays outside Taiwan. There are between 30 and 60 dogs, and the odd cat, at each property.
At Pet's Dream Park, dogs spend hours paddling in an indoor pool or getting groomed at a beauty parlor. Nervous pets get their own VIP rooms at no extra charge.
Little Treasure takes its dogs for nature walks, and makes them listen to stories to help their mood, its website says.
"My dog is used to it here. Accommodations are OK, not like a cage," said Tsai Shu-ling, 40, who drops her dog off at Pet's Dream Park each day.
(Additional reporting by Christine Lu and Ben Tai)
Editing by Miral Fahmy