A fluffy white cat in a yellow dress, perched on the top of a Bangkok cinema seat while, nearby, a Chihuahua in a ‘Sebastian the Crab’ costume geared up to watch Disney's The Little Mermaid with their owner. One terrier even channelled Ariel in a red wig and mermaid's tail.
They were among dozens of four-legged film-goers that arrived in strollers Saturday for the opening of Thailand's first pet-friendly cinema, i-Tail Pet Cinema, on the fringes of the capital.
The country's pet industry is considered the second-biggest in Asia, behind China's, with some 8.3 million dogs and 3.7 million cats in 2021, according to industry data.
Pet ownership grew further during the covid-19 pandemic, and now some businesses are trying to cash in. Mano, 37, has brought his rescue cat, Kati, to the cinema. "We take him to work sometimes... today is like an experiment," he says. "We are seeing The Little Mermaid. He will enjoy seeing all the fish on the screen."
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The animals had to wear diapers and sit in bags while the sound and lighting were adjusted for their comfort, Major Cineplex spokesman Narute Jiensnong says. "Bangkok is not a very pet-friendly city," Narute says, adding that the concept has been built on their child-friendly theatres.
Narute notes some pets, acquired during the pandemic, suffer separation anxiety now that owners are no longer working from home or in lockdown. "In the kid cinemas, kids will be running around screaming or shouting... I think pet cinema will be the same. Everyone who comes will own a pet and be understanding (if dogs bark)," he says.
It is not the only business opening its doors to furry visitors. Earlier this month, Swedish furniture giant Ikea announced that small dogs and cats were welcome to visit its Thailand stores, as long as they sat in prams.
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Outside the cinema, there were howls of disappointment as a 62-kilogram Alaskan Malamute named Tungchae, who arrived in a 1.5-square-metre dog trolley equipped with a fan, was considered too big to enter.
Despite the cinemas' animal welfare safeguards, not all pet owners are thrilled about the idea. One long-time Bangkok expat says that, while her cat frequently falls asleep beside her on the couch watching TV at home, she would never take her pet to the cinema and thinks the concept is "unnatural" and a "torture". "Being zipped up in this cage, I don't know if that's enjoyable for the animal," she says. "It's so ridiculous dogs are not allowed in (most Bangkok) parks but they can go to a movie or cafe. What comes next, you bring your dog or cat to a massage palour?"