Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 November 2019

Spoiled fur choice: meet the UAE's most pampered pets

From cameos in Bollywood movies to flying in a private jet – it’s all in a day’s work for these well-kept pooches

Everyone sings Happy Birthday as a photographer clicks away, the birthday girl beaming down at her Dh200 customised cake. A pile of presents lies ripped open in the corner, and the guests lick their lips in anticipation, as the “hip-hip hoorays” fizzle out. At last, the wait is over, and four-year-old Luna dives into her treat face first, sending chicken, liver and fish flying. It sounds like an unusual cake, but for Luna, a Siberian husky and Pomeranian crossbreed, the party is just getting started, and she and her doggy posse will spend the next couple of hours enjoying the lavish Dh1,500 bash.

The UAE's most pampered pooches

Luna – which is short for Lunacy – is just one of a growing number of pampered pooches in the UAE, whose owners splash out hundreds of thousands of dirhams on their upkeep – no expense is spared. These high-profile hounds have thousands of Instagram followers, designer wardrobes and their own modelling contracts. They spend their days reclining on yachts, enjoying beauty treatments and stealing the show on movie sets.

Luna's pet parents spent Dh1,500 on her third birthday bash. Courtesy Howl & Growl
Luna's pet parents spent Dh1,500 on her third birthday bash. Courtesy Howl & Growl

Today, Luna is letting her hair down, but her usual schedule sees her undertaking various modelling jobs, the most recent of which involved filming her onboard a private jet for a short movie that was screened at Dubai Art Week in March. That’s just another day living the high life for “the first Pomsky in Dubai”, whose owners Laura Hosford, 35, and James Bramwell, 40, paid Dh17,500 to ship her over from Ireland in 2015.

That kind of cost is a drop in the ocean for Hosford and Bramwell – who is also known as Brummy – who insist it’s money well spent to make sure their dogs have a good life. For the tens of thousands they’ve spent on Luna, the couple has spent an equal amount on their other two dogs, six-year-old “little princess” Xena and ­two-year-old “super sweet” Bear, a Korean Jindo cross who was rescued from a meat farm in Korea.

Modelling runs in the family, too. Xena is currently the cute, furry face of a Jumeirah Hotels and Resorts marketing campaign, having been pictured eating breakfast in a king-sized bed at the Burj Al Arab, paddleboarding in the hotel pool, working out in the gym and relaxing in the spa, all for business (but also for pleasure).

“I think pampering our dogs is as good for our own health as well as theirs,” says besotted Hosford, who founded UAE dog and cat boutique Howl & Growl. “I think they should have the time of their lives because we don’t have our pets for long.”

We define pampering as giving our dogs the best life we can

James Bramwell

Brummy agrees. “Our dogs are family, so we treat them the same [as family members]. We define pampering as giving our dogs the best life we can and one that allows us to enjoy spending time with them.” This involves regular visits to indoor dog parks in the summer, usually My Second Home in Dubai Investment Park, costing Dh200 a week, or access to Kite Beach in Dubai in the winter, costing Dh50 for entry per visit, per dog.

No expenses spared

The pooches are also keen hikers, and Hosford is even starting a doggy hiking club and outdoor dog park in Dubai this winter, called Unleashed, under the Howl & Growl banner. She’s planning a three-month road trip across America for the dogs, too. And when it comes to transporting the critters to their extracurricular activities, only the best will do.

“I bought Laura an F-150 pickup truck so she could ferry the dogs around and we could access more hiking,” explains Brummy, who owns Dubai printing company Toil & Tinker.

“I also recently purchased a six-wheeler vehicle called a Pinzgauer, and I am having it converted for the dogs and renaming it a Pinzgrowler. The combined price was more than Dh300,000.”

As for food, the dogs also eat like royalty, naturally, chomping their way through Dh1,500 a month of human-grade raw and organic pet meals from UAE gourmet pet food company, Furchild. The doggy catering business is owned by Canadian Katherine Cebrowski, 35, who was inspired to set up the company by her two eight-year-old English bulldogs, Maximus and Syema.

'A-list celebrities'

Like Luna and co, Maximus and Syema are regular faces on the modelling scene, having also posed in advertising campaigns for Jumeirah, as well as graced the pages of Cosmopolitan Middle East. But you might also recognise Maximus from the big screen.

“Maximus is already an A-list celebrity,” says Cebrowski proudly, referring to herself as a “Bullywood mum”. “As well as his famous gig as a leading role in a popular Bollywood movie called Dishoom, he regularly partakes in photoshoots and socials, where he’s often the centre of attention, and was an actor in a SellAnyCar.com advert.” But Maximus is much more than a pretty face. “He’s very athletic and has perfected the art of cuddling with people, being driven in convertibles and partaking in boat rides,” Cebrowski adds. “He enjoys being treated like a human, and his charismatic personality will steal your heart.”

Maximus cruises around with Varun Dhawan on the set of Bollywood film 'Dishoom'. Courtesy Katherine Cebrowski
Maximus cruises around with Varun Dhawan on the set of Bollywood film 'Dishoom'. Courtesy Katherine Cebrowski

While Maximus revels in the spotlight, Syema, who starred in an advertisement for TripAdvisor, is more of the strong, silent type. “Syema is the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the bulldog world,” Cebrowski says with a laugh. “His stocky, sturdy, big-boned body sets him apart from the rest. He loves playing tug of war, eating, sleeping, barking and adventuring with his family in the Jeep.”

Cebrowski’s “four-legged furchildren”, as she refers to them, are tended to by an “army” of 12 staff who make up the Furchild team, and the dogs even have their own legion of more than 4,500 Instagram followers between them.

All in a day's work

While this kind of extravagant behaviour might seem strange to some, for Karalynn Thomson, founder of The Animal Agency, an animal modelling and talent firm in the UAE, it’s nothing out of the ordinary. The managing director, 39, started her business in 2015 and has seen plenty of diva-like behaviour from critters in the four years since.

Our doggy icons have their own waiting areas on a shoot, much like an actor’s green room

Karalynn Thomson, founder of The Animal Agency

“A number of the dogs we work with have their own social media pages and a large following of fans,” explains Thomson. “They also have their own online profile on our website, just like human actors and models.

“Our doggy icons have their own waiting areas on a shoot, much like an actor’s green room. We like to make sure it’s a calm environment so that the dog can get a little bit of R&R between scenes.”

Owners spoiling their pets is standard practice in the UAE, says Thomson, with some animals invariably taking on the role of family members for homesick expatriates. “The doggy parents of the UAE really do love their pets, and everything they do is usually done with their best interests at heart. [This includes] being fed the best food, having the comfiest of beds, having their own maid or having regular photoshoots so they can keep their Insta profile updated,” she adds.

James Bramwell takes Xena for a hike. Courtesy Howl & Growl
James Bramwell takes Xena for a hike. Courtesy Howl & Growl

Getting extravagant

Samir Shroff, 38, the owner of animal boutique Pampered Pets, concurs. In fact, he says owners are splashing out on their furry friends more than ever. “We will soon be marking 10 years in Dubai, and business is always growing,” he says. Shroff has five chihuahuas and a mini poodle of his own. The six dogs have more than 5,600 Instagram followers between them.

Some of the more extravagant items on offer at Pampered Pets include Swarovski gem-encrusted harnesses, with prices starting from Dh450, and faux fur dog beds lined with thousands of crystals that go for as much as Dh12,000. But it’s not all about the bling, Shroff insists. “We believe the products we offer are very practical, too. For example, our long-haired chihuahuas always shed hair, so by dressing them in soft terry cotton pyjamas, they don’t shed all over our sofa and carpets.”

For Shroff, and all of the dog-lovers we met for this article, splashing out on their pooches is money well spent. “I think spending on our pets isn’t very different than when we spend on ourselves,” says Shroff. “We like to occasionally buy ourselves something nice, or for a special occasion. Why would it be any different for your furry family member?” Why indeed.

Updated: September 12, 2019 03:09 PM

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