A Hanoian Renaissance Man has run Vietnam's only "˜five-star' pet hotel for 40 years
A receptionist receives a pet dog to the hotel
Yes, there's a hotel for cats and dogs in Hanoi.
And yes, it's called Hotel Cho Meo (hotel for cats and dogs).
Seventy-one-year-old Nguyen Bao Sinh has devoted the last 40 years of his life to the "hotel" though really it's more of an all-service center for pets. It includes a five-storey veterinary clinic, a training center, a shop where pets and pet-things are bought, sold, and traded, and rooms for animals to stay while their owners are away. The rooms are small but more than a few notches up from a kennel cage.
"I must have owed something to cats and dogs in my previous life and now I am paying them in this life," Sinh says jokingly.
Sinh has been a folk poet, a portraitist, a teacher of literature, a martial artist and also a successful businessman. Each of these sides of him represents a part of his character.
"I love many things," he explains. "For each phase in my life I have a different love, and I always love with all my heart."
But one of his poems reveals that his three biggest loves are: writing poetry, raising dogs and watching cock-fighting. For now, it's dogs and cats that occupy most of his time.
Born in 1940 in Hanoi, Sinh was a young man during the revolution against the French and American occupiers. Like many other young Vietnamese people, he left university and joined the army. After the war, he became a teacher of literature at a military university.
He quit this job after just a short time because he wanted to spend time on another one of his loves.
"I was always very interested in keeping pet cats and dogs ever since I was small," he says. "Finally I made my dream come true: establishing a pet-care center for dogs and cats in Hanoi."
That was in 1970.
Love is not enough
The idea was quite new in Vietnam at that time and the move was a bold and risky one as dogs and cats were considered work animals, for guarding the house and catching rats, respectively. Many said what Sinh thought and did was as ridiculous or even crazy.
SOME OTHER ADDRESSES FOR PET CARE
Pet Care Hospital
124A Xuan Thuy Street, Thao Dien Ward, District 2, HCMC
Pet Mart Phuong Anh
223A Nguyen Van Luong Street, Ward 11, District 6, HCMC
ASVELIS Veterinary Hospital
D2-D4, 98 To Ngoc Van Street, Tay Ho District, Hanoi
Animal Care Center
16 Lane 424, Thuy Khue Street, Hanoi
"I followed my love for cats and dogs and I did not care about what people said," he says. He spent a small fortune on buying different breed of dogs to sell and trade, and he traveled to Thailand and Malaysia to visit pet hotels there. He began providing not only accommodation and healthcare, but also clothing, mates, and even funereal services.
These services are popular in Western countries but in Vietnam they sound strange. And Sinh's inexperience didn't help things either.
"My love for animals proved not enough," he remembers. "I had little knowledge of each kind of dog and cat and their problems, so I did not know how to treat them properly when they were ill. There were times when many of my animals died in epidemics and I nearly went bankrupt."
A particularly-harrowing episode came in the late 1970s, when hundreds of dogs at Sinh's center died from a parasitic disease that ripped through the capital city.
Sinh also remembers the early days during the war when raising dogs was banned. "My dogs and I had to jump into the lotus pool to hide under the leaves whenever the authorities came," he recalled. The ban was lifted in 1986.
Despite all hardships, he studied hard and learned from books, the Internet and experts and in addition to his ongoing love, he eventually found his way to success.
King of cats
In the late 90's the local media dubbed him the "King of Cats" when he helped save Hanoi's feline population from extinction.
At that time many popular restaurants in Hanoi served cat meat as their feature dish and felines became easy prey for criminals who wanted to sell them to restaurants. The number of cats then decreased and as a result there was an increase of the rat population. And people's mass-use of rat poison accidentally killed many more cats when they ate the poisoned rodents.
"Many Hanoians were then afraid that cats might become extinct!" says Sinh.
"But I had successfully mongrelized a kind of Vietnamese cat with a Western one. The mongrel had many advantages: it never left the house, it caught rats but did not eat them, and it only ate food given by people."
Sinh found himself with a large market of buyers and "earned a lot" of money, he says.
Sinh has just built a 100-square-meter, five-storey building to provide more space for his guests as the old hotel was getting rather crowded, particularly during holiday seasons when Vietnam's newly-rich are increasingly on vacation.
The hotel, located on 167 Truong Dinh Street, Hai Ba Trung District, can now host up to 100 pets and has a beautiful view of the swimming pool in which Sinh and his staff train dogs.