HANOI: At this 50-room hotel, the guests stay for months at a time, sometimes five to a room, get room service twice a day and enjoy piped-in pop songs.
Some even check in for sex for an extra fee, of course.
Welcome to the Dog and Cat Hotel, perhaps Vietnam's only boarding house for pets. It offers medical care, grooming, cremations, and yes, breeding services.
Located down an unremarkable alley in a residential area of Vietnam's capital city, the 30-year-old hotel houses up to 100 cats and dogs in cages, has a pond for aquatically inclined pets and a scenic view of a lily-pad covered lake.
It's not just Fido and Fluffy who share rooms in the hotel, an oddity in communist Vietnam where about a third of the population lives under the poverty line and where eating dogs is common.
White fan-tailed doves strut in the courtyard past cages containing fighting cocks, two black bears and a monkey. The bears and monkey belong to Nguyen Bao Sinh, 63, owner of the hotel and a former teacher of literature.
Sinh set up the pet hotel during the final years of the Vietnam War and has kept the place going ever since.
The building was damaged during bombing raids by American planes in 1972 but now is an oasis of calm in a city bursting with people chasing dreams of getting rich and owning fashionable pets.
On one typically overcast and drizzly winter morning in January, the hotel was full. A cacophony of barks and meows rise up, drowning out Celine Dion on the loudspeaker.
For around US$2 a day for dogs and half that for cats, the hotel cares for pets sometimes for months at a time as owners take long holidays or temporary work assignments. Customers are local and foreigners, though increasingly the former.
Vietnam, though still poor, has one of Asia's fastest-growing economies. As wages rise, so does pet ownership.
Sinh said he started the business as a cat-breeding farm. But soon he began to get requests from pet owners to board their animals for short periods.
I caught the idea of the demand, and I followed that, he said.
There was also a higher purpose in his enterprise. He saw the hotel as his destiny, or karma, according to his Buddhist belief.
It seems that in my previous life, I received an order to look after these animals in my next life, he said sombrely.
Do Thi Sang, 73, scarfed and bundled in a brown sweater against the chill, is a drop-in customer, arriving in a cyclo with her beloved striped cat in a plastic bag.
A woman, one of four veterinarians at the hotel, gently massages the cats legs. Sang tells a visitor her cat passed out after nearly drowning when their home flooded. Its limbs had been stiff since then.
The doctors here give it good treatment and it can walk now. They saved its life, a grateful-looking Sang said.
Another cat arrives, but for a completely different service.
Its owner, Vu Bang Tam, wants the white long-haired, blue-eyed female cat to be mated.
Sinh says that decades of working with animals has attuned him to their moods and needs.
When I hear the sound of a dog or a cat, I know whether it is sick or if it has any trouble, like if it has its leg stuck in a cage.
I can guess how well a cock is just from listening to its crow, he said with a grin.
His services have extended to funerals as well.
Sinh offers cremations after learning about pet cemeteries in Europe and elsewhere. It hasnt developed into a widespread practice yet, but Sinh believes there will be customers for it.
Sinh, however, does have some contradictions.
Asked about the bears in the cage, Sinh said he rears them to harvest bile from their gall bladders. The liquid is used to treat sick animals.
That practice of harvesting the bile has been criticised as cruel by animal rights groups and seems anathema to Sinhs philosophy about looking after pets.
I won't keep them in the near future, he acknowledged. I should free the bears in the forest.
He also enjoys cock-fighting but draws the line on eating dog meat.
In Vietnam, specifically farmed breeds are eaten for health and auspicious reasons.
I would never eat my dog, Sinh said. Reuters
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