Feature Pink toenails for your Rottweiler or a preen for your parrot? The UAE's grooming hot spots have it all.
We've all seen the pictures of tiny, hairless dogs hanging out of the latest It-bag, diamond collars glinting in the LA sun; and heard the ridiculous stories of services like Puppy the World in Tokyo, where, for a small fee, you can rent a dog by the hour. A quick Google search for "luxury pet retreats" brings up several destination options, including the six-star Cat Utopia Resort and Spa in Australia, where the TV-equipped Emperor Penthouse will set you back Dh138 per night (which includes the suspect-sounding VIP Cat-ercise and VIP Cuddlepuss); and let's not even get into www.guineapigholidays.com. Clearly, there is money to be made from our soft spot for four-legged friends. Closer to home, with the Pedigree and Whiskas Dubai Pet Show set to take place on Saturday, the city's pet grooming salons are a blur of activity. Now in its 21st year, the show has become one of the biggest annual events in the city after attendance last year reached 30,000. Billed as a family day, with events such as Dog Most Like Owner and Best Fancy Dress, there is also a fiercely competitive element, and the morning's pedigree and cross-breed classes are no laughing matter. So much so that they have even flown in Crufts judges from the UK - the dog show benchmark. "We started with about 200 dogs competing," says Jennifer Paoli, the pet care manager for Mars Inc and the show's organiser. "Then last year we had about 400. This year we're expecting 600." With the number of participating pets on the rise as well the pet population in the UAE in general (Paoli measures the figure at 15 to 20 per cent year on year) the pet care industry has never been busier, particularly at the top end. "We normally have about a one or two month waiting list," says Shaheen Debenedictis, who owns and runs Shampooch, a mobile grooming spa. "We have two big pink and yellow vans and we go to customers' houses and groom their dogs inside the van, but we park outside their house." Their facilities include a large recirculating bath and a table with a blow dryer and vacuum cleaner. "It's pretty hi-tech inside the van; and it's a real pampering for the dog," she says. The maximum price of a full groom package is Dh350, which includes a thorough bath complete w ith massage jets; a brush to remove any mats or knots; a haircut according to the owner's style preference; and eye, ear and teeth cleaning. The whole process can take up to an hour and a half, depending on the breed of dog, with longer-haired breeds such as cocker spaniels and Pekinese taking the longest. Debenedictis started the company three years ago after she noticed a need for professional dog groomers. "We saw how Dubai was going as a city. A lot more people were staying long-term - buying houses, settling down, having a family - and that meant there were a lot more pet owners." The vans were the perfect solution to the traffic problem. "We realised that there was a need for the service to be brought to you. Also, most dogs don't like car journeys; it stresses them out because they think they're going to the vet." She has tried to steer clear of the more frivolous treatments, such as dyeing and sparkly adornments. "When we first started, we used to get a lot of requests to paint dogs' toenails. The most popular colour was hot pink. But then we decided it didn't make sense. I personally didn't really like it, but I suppose it depends on the kind of dog you have. If you've got a little chihuahua, then maybe that would be cute, but a lot of people were asking for it on dogs that it didn't look nice on - like a big rottweiler, with bright pink nails?" Although she hasn't had any more requests since they stopped offering the service, she is confident that if they started, people would take it on. "But I really want to keep the company at that level where you're giving a service to the animal that makes it more comfortable, rather than doing things that are more for us than the dog." Across town, at Pet Style in International City, Yuliya Kovaleva is less concerned. "We do whatever the owner asks," she says. The self-dubbed "first pet-grooming salon in Dubai" offers everything from full grooming to dyeing. "It's a special temporary colour for the animals. It will go after a week, or depending on how often you give them a bath." The shades on offer include pink, green and orange. Not surprisingly, hot pink is the most popular. "They do it for fun. Some people might want their pet to look funny or something. It's just a few people, though - mainly young people." When compared to the deep-cleansing hydrosurge bubble baths, moisturising and aromatherapy treatments on offer at extreme pampering havens such as Teacups Puppies' Grooming Pawlor in Florida (puns abound in the pet world), these treatments don't seem all that outlandish. In fact, both Debenedictis and Kovaleva have been more surprised by the types of animals that they have been asked to groom than the treatments themselves. "We've been asked to do things like groom a parrot and a llama, and even a tiger once," says Debenedictis. "Obviously, we said no." Kovaleva has gone one stranger. "The strangest pet we ever had was a grey squirrel. We had to wash it. It was very well-behaved." Down the road in Abu Dhabi, a more conservative pet care culture is putting down roots. "Pet grooming is pretty much limited to the veterinary clinics here," says Dr Katrin Jahn, who runs the German Veterinary Clinic in Khalifa City - an indication that all this preening is perhaps more than just a treat. "Grooming sounds a bit pompous, but it's actually quite important," she says. "You get a lot of dogs with thick coats and long-haired cats, and people don't know how to take care of them properly, so you end up with animals who are completely matted from head to foot." However, their grooming services are offered strictly on a well-being basis. "We do it purely for hygiene and comfort. We would never do things like paint their nails or dye them." She has also had some strange requests, though. "I was once asked to pierce a cat's ears with a diamond stud. I think my words were: 'Are you crazy?'" Instead, Jahn offers exclusive services such as puppy socialisation classes or "puppy parties". "They're very important because puppies up to a certain age are really susceptible to learning new things. The puppies are allowed to play with each other and everyone gets a chance to handle them so they get used to lots of different people and experiences. You can really tell the difference from a puppy that's been to puppy parties over one that hasn't - they're much more adjusted; they're not frightened and they don't bite or anything." She has also recently launched their inaugural Pet Slimmer of the Year competition, which uses state-of-the-art slimming technology to ascertain target weights, in order to help deal with the animal obesity problem which is exacerbated by the extreme climate. "The temperature here means it often isn't as easy to exercise an animal as if you lived near to a mountain, park or forest." Meanwhile, in the lush, bougainvillaea-strewn confines of the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, the team have had to vastly expand their "pet hotel" in order to cater for the rising demand for VIP pet care in the emirate. "We started in July 2007 with nine rooms," says Dr Margit Muller, the director of the hospital, as well as the pet care centre. "Then it became an overwhelming success, and last year we added 34 rooms for cats and 34 for dogs." Theirs are no ordinary pet quarters: dogs reside in large individual air-conditioned rooms, which have access to private outdoor garden; and the cats enjoy similarly spacious confines with a scratching tree and sun bathing shelf. They also offer a full grooming service. "People are booking well in advance in order to secure a place, and we already have bookings for the summer. Owners will sometimes bring a pet for boarding and grooming at the same time. So it's like going home with a new pet." Martina Boor, who runs the Dubai Dog Club and whose whippet, Sasha, won Best in Show at the Dubai Pet Show in 2007 and runner-up in 2008, prefers to do her own grooming. She is currently knee-deep in preparations for Saturday. "I'm very grateful because I have a whippet, so I have very little to do for her. But I also have a Yorkshire terrier who I'm showing as well. Now, before the show, I do about half an hour of grooming on her every day." She has a warning for those who stray too far into nail-painting territory, though. "For me, it's nonsense. A dog is a dog and if you don't raise it as such, you're asking for trouble. I often see dogs who bite, who don't come when they're called, who are aggressive; and it's not their fault." On the flip side, she concedes that a little harmless grooming can go a long way. "It is very important to keep grooming in the routine because it is hygienic. And it's also good for the dog's self-confidence; when they look good, they feel good." ? The 21st Pedigree and Whiskas Dubai Pet Show will take place this Saturday at Dubai Festival City. There is a Dh30 fee for competitors and a Dh10 charge for visitors. All proceeds will go to K9 Friends and Feline Friends. To see the schedule, visit www.dubaipetshow.com.