Life's a Beach for Italy's Dogsthe daily dish
ROME - The sun brollies are up, the beach loungers full and the water is full of daytrippers splashing about.
It is a classic Italian scene but with one crucial difference: the beach bums frolicking in the waves at Maccarese are nearly all dogs, revelling in a rare chance to romp by the seaside.
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Welcome to BauBeach, a canine-friendly stretch of sand on the outskirts of Rome that has pioneered a nationwide trend towards providing space for dogs and owners to enjoy the delights of summer together.
"This is a beach for dogs, we humans are only here as their guests," says Jose Luis, a regular visitor with his Labrador, Morena.
He is only half joking. Every dog that turns up is provided with a parasol and a water bowl: the humans have to stump up for their brollies and loungers.
BauBeach, which takes its name from the Italian word for 'woof', is the only beach in the area that allows dogs off the leash -- as long as they and their owners obey the key house rules (no aggressive behaviour for the dogs and don't forget to scoop the poop for the owners).
With the exception of the odd leg being cocked over a Gucci handbag, it works well.
As the dogs run themselves to exhaustion amid the excitement of making lots of new friends, owners can kick back.
"It is great, my dog has fun and I get to relax, so it kills two birds with one stone," says Roberta, a day tripper from Rome, as her dog Melissa rests between her legs.
All of which raises the question as to why there are not many more beaches like this one in what is a dog-loving country.
A population of 60 million has some six million officially registered canines, who are largely welcome in the nation's bars and restaurants.
Yet the vast majority of the country's beaches have long been a no-go area for man's best friend.
"Which is an aberration really, when you think that they are not closed to goats and horses," says Patrizia Daffina, who set up BauBeach in 1998.
"At the end of World War II, the development policies in the tourist resorts led to our dogs being chased off the beaches, to give them an image of cleanliness," says Daffina, who has swapped a career in Italian cinema for life as a champion of the nation's pooches.
A 30-minute drive from central Rome, BauBeach Maccarese covers 7,000 square metres (75,000 square feet) of ocean front, a big enough space to welcome more than 100 dogs, and their owners, at a time.
Owners pay an annual membership of 13 euros ($17) and four euros entrance on each visit. For that, the beach provides lifeguards, a vet and doggy showers for a hose-down before getting back in the car.
"Apart from those on heat, all dogs can enjoy this beach, from Rottweilers to poodles, there is no discrimination here," says Daffina. More than 7,000 dogs visited last summer and that record is certain to be smashed this year.
The happy atmosphere is maintained by screening at the entrance, where new members are given a quick once-over by a member of the BauBeach team before being allowed off the leash, a process a bit like being eyed up by a bouncer at a nightclub.
Once in, dogs must be let off their leads and allowed to socialise.
Smaller and older pooches paddle in a shallow lagoon at the back of the beach, while the water-loving breeds head straight for the waves.
Others, like a Jack Russell terrier, opted just to sit and gaze watchfully out to sea while "handbag" dogs were carried across the hot sand by doting owners.
"Seeing your dog swimming, and having fun with other dogs, that makes you happy. Whenever your animal is happy, you are too," says Jose Luis, as Morena amuses herself digging another hole.
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