First pet tour sets off on Taiwan trip
By China Post
A group of high-profile travelers entered the Taipei railway station yesterday, wh
ere they boarded an express train headed for Hualien, eastern Taiwan, in a special carriage for dogs and their owners.
It was the start of the first group train travel for pet owners and their animals since the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) launched a three-month trial period July 1 to allow passengers to travel with pets on the trains.
Liu Chu-mei, an assistant manager at a Taipei-based travel agency that organized the tour, said the "very important dogs" are permitted to not only travel on the train with their owners, but also to stay in the same hotel rooms and eat at the same restaurants.
Liu, who is also a dog lover, said she started negotiations with the TRA about 18 months ago on the opening of a "pet railroad car" to allow passengers to travel with their pets in a relaxed atmosphere.
To avoid disturbing the other passengers, the pet tour group chose the morning train and boarded on the remote fourth platform. However, the 19 dogs attracted the attention of other travelers when they passed through the train station lobby.
Station Director Lee Yung-sheng admitted that he has been under great pressure because of the opening the pet car.
Although pet lovers welcomed the TRA's policy to allow animals on board its trains, some passengers have opposed the move. One of them has filed a lawsuit against the TRA in an administrative court on grounds that the rights of general passengers and those who might have health concerns have been ignored as "they are forced to sit together with pets."
TRA Deputy Director General Chang Ying-huei said the company will weigh the public's opinions carefully before making any changes.
Chang noted that the TRA had conducted two separate public surveys on the policy before launching the new measure on a trial basis at the beginning of the month.
In a poll conducted in 2003, 70 percent of the respondents said they did not want pets on the train while 14 percent approved of the proposal. Earlier this year, the TRA conducted another survey, which showed that the percentage of those who disapproved of the plan had dropped to 55 percent, while those who the approved rose to 24 percent.
Amid an increasing trend in Taiwan for people to travel with pets, the TRA decided to try to open its doors to pet lovers, allowing passengers to take animals on the train. It however stipulated that the each pet must be kept in a carrier measuring 40 cm by 30 cm by 26 cm high, that the container must be sealed so that it does not leak urine or excrement, and that it most be stowed under the seat during travel.
However, on the charter "Pet Party" carriage, which was decorated with colorful balloons and pictures of dogs and their owners, the animals were not confined. The were allowed to sit next to or be held by their owners and were fed a custom-made breakfast.
The special car is equipped with an independent air cleaner to allow for independent air circulation, a TRA official said, adding that the TRA has also hired a cleaning service to disinfect the carriage after the tour.
Lee En-huei, the owner of a 14-year-old mini doberman, said she decided to join the tour group because it is much quicker to travel to the prime tourist area of Hualien by train than by car.