x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Pets prove the high cost of unconditional love

While pets can bring joy to their owners' lives, the cost of keeping them can really hit the hip pocket, especially if they have a penchant for the finer things in life.

Samir Shroff, the owner of Pampered Pets in Dubai Marina, says the sky is the limit when it comes to spending on pets. His store even stocks dog perfume, which retails at Dh80. Satish Kumar / The National
Samir Shroff, the owner of Pampered Pets in Dubai Marina, says the sky is the limit when it comes to spending on pets. His store even stocks dog perfume, which retails at Dh80. Satish Kumar / The National

At Urban Tails, Dubai's first pet resort, the staff were welcoming a new guest. A Saudi princess had arrived with her butler, who was dressed entirely in white and carrying a tiny puppy.

The owners needed somewhere for the little dog to go because they had no one to care for it while they stayed at the Burj Al Arab.

"Then the princess's butler found the dog a nanny, so she was taken back," says Aideen O'Mara, the director of Urban Tails, a facility dubbed a seven-star resort that she opened last year.

"The dog was deaf. She was born in Spain, was taken away from the mother way too young and put on a private jet that burst her eardrums."

Although Ms O'Mara is quick to point out that this case is an exception, stories of dogs and cats being brought up in the lap of luxury are by no means unusual, particularly in the Emirates.

At the recent 24th Dubai Dog Show, canines dressed in bonnets, baseball hats, rhinestone collars, tutus and sunglasses were paraded around by their owners, all eager to show off their pooches' specially whitened fur and sparkling teeth.

Owners spoke of dressing their pooches in matching outfits, lavishing large portions of their monthly salary on their pets and only feeding them bottled water and the finest of treats.

Monthly pet budgets of Dh2,000 or more were bandied about as the norm along with pet personal trainers and collars adorned with rhinestones or even Swarovski crystals.

At the Pampered Pets stand, a luxury boutique in Dubai Marina, owner Samir Shroff, had sold out of Dh100 dog harnesses - some with matching hoodies.

Mr Shroff, an Indian who moved to Dubai from Oman four years ago, set up the store 18 months ago, creating a pet playground for the wealthy.

"I wanted a store in Dubai that was dedicated to people who really like to pamper their pets. A lot of people shopped abroad in places like Harrods and they would tell me they had to leave behind their own things because their suitcase was full of stuff for their pets. So I thought Dubai has everything luxury, so why not for pets," Mr Shroff says, adding that the sky's the limit when it comes to spending on pets.

Owners can buy designer dog clothes, dog perfume for Dh80, which might replace the Chanel scent one customer admits to using, "pooh bags" that resemble a mini purse for Dh55 and cat litter you can flush down the toilet.

The treats come in every flavour, from lamb, beef and venison to vegetarian - because some owners prefer their animals to be meat-free - as well as peanut butter and cheese. There's even dog popcorn for Dh15.

In the grooming room, dogs and cats can have a wash and blow dry, a pedicure and their coat colour "enhanced" with natural dyes made from royal jelly.

Mr Shroff is awaiting a shipment of sting ray and crocodile collars, which he will sell for Dh1,700 each. But the most extravagant purchase has to be one of his bespoke dog beds. Made by hand in Las Vegas before being shipped to the customer, the beds come in any colour, size and material, are shaped like a human bed and can feature lettering and even Swarovski crystals. They start at Dh12,000 and go up to Dh27,000 or more.

"That one had diamonds on it," Mr Shroff says, adding that some customers spend Dh3,000 in his shop every few days.

Mr Shroff, 30, who owns five Chihuahuas himself, estimates he spends Dh8,000 a month, including Dh4,000 on treats alone and Dh3,000 on dog beds. His most expensive purchase is one of his own customised beds at Dh14,000.

"Everyone spends according to what they feel is right. Some people buy a Ferrari, some people buy a Rolex. If someone pampers their pets, then that's a personal preference," Mr Shroff says.

"For me, it's about creating a family. When I come home, they feel like they're my kids and they should be rewarded for all the patience and love they give me. It's the least I can do for them."

But does he not worry that his store will encourage dog owners to view their pets as accessories, such as the Paris Hiltons of this world, who sport tiny pooches in tiny handbags?

"That's true," Mr Shroff says. "If someone buys a dog for that reason, that's a very temporary feeling. A dog is not an accessory, it's a full-time, 15-year responsibility, so only a person who is really serious about taking it on should do it - it's not that different to looking after a kid."

This is a philosophy also shared by Dubai's Ms O'Mara of Urban Tails. Located in Dubai Investment Park, her boarding facility features 72 air-conditioned "doggy suites" complete with flat-screen TVs, a webcam to allow the owner to keep track of their pet's progress and tasteful decor.

"We're replicating what they have at home," says Ms O'Mara, who based her business on pet resorts commonly found in the US and Canada. "When we go away, we want comfort - we don't want to give everything up so why should your dog or cat?"

Prices for dogs start at Dh115 and go up to Dh345 for the Royal suite, which comes with a personalised photograph album at the end of the stay, a limo pick-up and drop-off service and the option of a personal butler and doggy boot-camp sessions in the gym.

There are also indoor and outdoor play areas for the dogs to socialise and exercise and an outdoor pool.

But while this may seem like something only to be afforded by the super rich, customers from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah are queuing up to book their pets in.

"Animals need to be comfortable," Ms O'Mara says. "You can't have them in an air-conditioned living room and then send them to a hot, humid, outdoor place. They are going to get sick, dehydrated and very stressed. It's not fair on the animal.

"For the owners, it's just that peace of mind. They can see on the webcams that we are doing what we say we're doing and we have the plasma TVs again to recreate a little bit of the home environment."

Cats can also enjoy the high life, staying in Dh80-a-night "kitty condos" with en suite facilities for their litter tray. They are let out to play on a specially designed climbing frame with scratching posts and hiding places and can listen to calming cat music.

There's even day care for pets from 8am to 6pm, too.

"We have a customer who started day care for her two dogs and now she has adopted another one in the last couple of months, so she sends her three dogs into day care four times a week and that's Dh80 per dog," Ms O'Mara says.

"She's a very normal woman and very down to earth. She's not walking around with a Gucci bag - she simply recognises that although she has three dogs who can play with each other, it's good to get away from home and away from her and socialise with other dogs."

Ms O'Mara estimates she spends a minimum of Dh1,500 a month on her own dog, Oscar, and two cats.

"I spend almost all my disposable income on my pets and I don't feel bitter about it. I want them to be as happy as they can and if I didn't have the money, I don't know what I would do."

Although the dogs and cats staying at Urban Tails are certainly at the high end of the pet world, Ms O'Mara stresses that anyone considering taking on a pet must consider the costs involved.

"People simply don't realise how much it is going to cost. There is a huge problem of unwanted pets here and the rescue centres are full. People lose their jobs and need to leave and with relocation costing up to Dh15,000, they can't afford to take their pet."

Planning her budget to include her furry friends is something Emma Vorwerk, the owner of Berry Behaved, an online pet boutique, has learnt to do since she adopted Chloé, a five-year-old Lhasa Apso, in August 2010 and three-year-old Sydney, a Havanese she took in last summer after a friend returned home to Australia.

"When I decided to have a dog, I probably did not fully realise the costs. And when you get a stray dog, like Chloé, it can get more expensive. Chloé needs her teeth cleaned because she has bacteria in her gums - that will cost Dh350 plus and it cost me Dh250 to go to the vet just to tell me this."

Mrs Vorwerk, 30, an Australian, says she spends at least Dh1,500 a year at the vet and Dh250 on grooming every six weeks, but her biggest cost is sending them to Woof!, a dog hotel in Dubai's Al Quoz area, when she goes away.

"My last bill for 22 days of boarding was Dh2,992 for two dogs and that includes a 15 per cent discount for double occupancy. We've been away quite a bit lately, so they are now officially in our holiday budget as we have to consider the cost of their accommodation, as well as ours. But I wouldn't have it any other way. We love our dogs.

"I could spend more than I do, but I'm not the kind of person who puts clothes on my dog or walks around with them in my handbag - that would be a little crazy."

But if you have the money, and maybe are a little crazy, how much you spend depends entirely on you.

"We had one dog that flew in with a Russian family by private jet from Switzerland," Ms O'Mara says. "I went down and met the owner by the pool and she was standing there in a bikini with Chanel pumps and diamond earrings with the little Chihuahua in a carrier that looks like a handbag. People see them as their children, so you can spend as little or as much as you want."

arayer@thenational.ae

 

Standard pet care costs

Dog

Purchase price Dh10,000 or free from a rescue home, although donations are welcome

Initial check-up with a vet Dh800

Animal vaccination maintenance Dh1,000 a year

Annual dental treatment Dh800 to Dh1,500, depending on breed and size of dog

Monthly flea and tick treatment Dh60

Neutering (male) and spaying (female) From Dh800 to Dh2,500

Boarding From Dh80 per day

Microchip Dh225 – one-off fee

Annual municipality registration Dh40

Food Dh250 a month

Grooming Dh200 a month

Accessories (toys, beds, collars, leads) Set up cost of Dh300 and from Dh100 a month

Relocation Dh8,000 to Dh15,000, depending on size of dog and destination

 

Cat

Purchase price Dh2,000 to Dh5,000 or free from a rescue home, although donations are welcome

Initial check-up with a vet Dh550

Annual vaccination maintenance Dh500

Boarding From Dh50 a day

Microchip Dh225 – one-off fee

Annual municipality registration Dh40

Food Dh150 a month

Neutering (male) and spaying (female) From Dh450 to Dh800

Grooming Dh100 or up to Dh1,200 if the cat needs an anaesthetic

Accessories (litter tray, scratching post, toys, collars) Set up cost of Dh300 and from Dh50 a month

Litter Dh80 per month

Relocation From Dh5,000 t0 Dh8,000, depending on destination