Dogs: The Best Kid You Could Ask For

We all marveled at this controlling parent, and it occurred to me that all human children can, occasionally, become chongwu; I thought about the times I’d bragged about my children’s accomplishments, or overprotected them, or put them in funny costumes when they were little. In Taiwan as in America, and probably anywhere else, we strive, not just with pets but with humans, to move from perceiving our beloved as chongwu to engaging with him or her as a companion.

At the cat hotel, called Cat and Life, we met Chelsea, 30, and Kevin, 42, who live together and own (“officially?” Chelsea asked) “about 22 dogs.” Chelsea and Kevin are from Taiwan. They both lived in Canada for many years and worked in banking before getting into the pet-hospitality business. On the second floor of their establishment, we came across a cat-adoption area—one reminiscent of a child’s playroom, with a linoleum floor, wooden tables, and a bookshelf—that functions as a kind of dating/hangout scene where petless people can meet pets (or, in the case of polyamorous pet owners, more pets). On the third floor, cats lolled in 20 small glass rooms that can hold up to four cats each. (Some VIP rooms sport furniture intended to simulate home—one features a wooden desk and black office chair on wheels, another contains a crib with pillows, yet another houses a love seat and a stained-glass lamp.) Video cameras are aimed at each room so owners can watch their cats 24 hours a day while they’re out of town. “Everyone is watching all the time!” Chelsea told me. “People say, ‘Turn the cameras, nothing is happening,’ and I say, ‘The cat is sleeping, what do you want it to do?!’”

Pet’s Dream Park, which Lin opened 10 years ago as Taiwan’s first dog hotel, was cheerful and extensively surveilled, with 64 video cameras patrolling the place. But it smelled strongly of dog, and had a slightly more downmarket feel than its cat counterpart—while Cat and Life resembled a shiny new Hilton, Pet’s Dream Park recalled a Ramada Inn. Inside, one dog was wearing a chewed-up purple funnel and a disposable diaper. A series of surgeries had damaged his bladder, requiring him to wear the diaper and a plastic cone to keep him from tearing it off. He stood motionless, staring at us with an unbearably sad expression.

“The vet wanted to euthanize, but the owner didn’t want to because of religion,” Chelsea said. “The owner comes by and walks him. We try to make things better for him.”

What is this love about, I wondered. Who is it for? We left the husky standing in his room, in his diaper, his eyes utterly heavy and confused. He looked like he had been waiting and waiting. Or maybe like he had stopped waiting.

It was time to go home. Butter had successfully socialized with the other dogs at the hotel, and Wu Young had warmed to the idea of dropping him off there in the future. Back on the high-speed train to Taichung, racing by rice paddies and a sky pale with industrial haze, Butter stared at Wu Young from his carrier, blinking repeatedly, as she gazed back at him. “He’s trying to go to sleep,” she said. “But he wants to look at me.” And the thing is, she was right. Butter was looking up at Wu Young with pure love, the kind we all—mothers, fathers, spouses, children—seek out. Was he chongwu, or doungwu banlu, or something else entirely? Butter blinked. Once. Twice. Then he lay down and fell asleep. 

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Karen E. Bender

Karen E. Bender is the author of the forthcoming story collection, Refund.

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