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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dog Days of Summer at the Beach

MACCARESE, Italy -- For the mutts of Maccarese, it really is a dog's life.

When summer comes, there's no more pining away behind closed doors while their owners dash off to the seaside. Now they just make straight for the beach, too.

Set up four years ago to satisfy man's best friend, Bau Beach is a stretch of the Mediterranean just north of Rome where the average sunbather is as likely to have four legs and a tail as a string bikini and a smile.

It may be nothing new in other parts of the world, but dogs on beaches are a recent phenomenon in Italy, where there are tight restrictions on letting dogs off leashes.

There are still only two dozen Italian beaches that accept dogs, but the idea is catching on.

On a sunny day at Bau Beach, packs of hounds can be found frolicking in the waves, lounging under their own mini-umbrellas or enjoying a dig in the sand while their owners take it easy.

"Up until this came along it was difficult to go on holiday with your dog," said Carlo Ambrosio, enjoying a day by the sea with Becky, his Canadian gray husky.

"If I had my way, I'd make them put a beach for dogs every 10 kilometers all the way around Italy's shoreline," said Ambrosio.

Becky, who spent most of one recent afternoon digging a big hole and then barking at anyone who came near it, appeared to agree, every now and then taking a refreshing dip in the ocean.

And when she's not digging, she has plenty of time to hang out with Taro, a yellow Labrador who's a Maccarese regular, or Max, a large Newfoundland who lives up to his reputation as a good swimmer by appearing to give lessons to novices.

For a 10 euro ($10) season pass and 5 euros a time, dogs at Bau Beach get just about all the benefits of regular beach-goers, including an umbrella and a towel. They also get a dog bowl and their owners are handed a shovel.

While for owners there are the occasional annoyances -- Taro seemed to have a tendency to get wet, roll in the sand and then want to sit on her owner's towel -- the managers at Bau Beach (www.baubeach.it) say it's a healthy day out for the dogs.

"They feel free, and when they're free they're happier and less aggressive, you can really see it," said Simone Bakra, one of a small team of dog lovers who run the beach.

At the end of the day it only remains for the dogs to take a refreshing shower under a high-pressure hose -- something not loved by all.

Yet while Bau Beach and similar resorts around Italy try to make sure every dog has its day in the sun, they are painfully aware that it is too often not the case.

Italy, in fact, has one of the highest number of stray and abandoned dogs in Europe, with an estimated 150,000 ditched every year when their owners head off for the summer holidays, according to the Bau Beach web site.