x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

At pet hotel, Helmut is a VIP (very important pug)

Cloud9 is the fruit of four years' hard work by its Emirati owner.

Helmut, a four-month-old pug, enjoys the red carpet treatment upon arrival at the plush Cloud 9 yesterday, the capital’s first luxury pet hotel, housed in a villa in Khalifa City A.
Helmut, a four-month-old pug, enjoys the red carpet treatment upon arrival at the plush Cloud 9 yesterday, the capital’s first luxury pet hotel, housed in a villa in Khalifa City A.

ABU DHABI // At four months old, Helmut has not had many opportunities to walk the red carpet.

But last night the young pug did just that, distracted only briefly by the surrounding smells of paving and flowerpots before sashaying up the stairs and into the capital's first luxury pet hotel.

Cloud9, which officially opens today, is the fruit of four years and innumerable hours of planning - including dozens of visits to the municipality - by Afra Al Dhaheri, its 24-year-old Emirati owner.

Along the way, though, she never had any doubt she would open her dream business. "It was way harder than I thought it would be," she said. "But I was determined. I would fight, fight, fight. To be open now, it feels so unreal. I'm not sure I even believe it yet."

When she first laid eyes on the villa in Khalifa City A that would become the home of Cloud9, she knew immediately it was the perfect home for her first business venture.

At a launch party there last night, dozens of friends, family and supporters - including several four-legged pals - gathered in the sea-themed waiting area.

Future clients lounged on couches adorned with blue and white accents, decorated with seashells, starfish and coral. Furry friends explored the hotel's rooms, where each space came with seafoam-coloured bowls and aquamarine cat beds.

In the pet shop on the ground floor, studded and spiked leather dog collars share space with red, yellow and green boa cat toys and pink chihuahua harnesses.

There was food and medicine, chew toys and outfits; Ms Al Dhaheri wants her clientele to know she has thought of everything.

"She just set her mind to it, and she made it happen," said her older sister, Alya. "And I think this is going to be a great change in the community."

Ms Al Dhaheri was inspired to open the classy kennels after discovering that many owners abandoned their pets to go on holiday.

She initially wanted to open an animal shelter, but struggled to secure permits and funding. Then a grant from the Khalifa Fund gave her the boost she needed, and Cloud9 welcomed its first guests last week.

In addition to grooming, vaccination and boarding, Cloud9 is dedicated to protecting pets. Ms Al Dhaheri plans to invite groups of schoolchildren, to teach them about animal welfare.

"A lot of people see what's happening with animal abuse and they just choose to ignore it. There are a lot of Arabs who are like me, but they don't speak up and I think they should," she said.

Annette Albertson, an American and former neighbour of the Al Dhaheri family, attended the opening and said she would never consider any other animal care for her three-year-old Yorkie named Aiko.

"Everything is so clean, and the staff is so friendly," Mrs Albertson said. "Knowing Afra as a neighbour, she lived for her animals."

Such luxury does not come cheap. A night in one of five VIP dog rooms, complete with a flat-screen television, or the 14 VIP cat rooms will cost Dh150 - but only for the three-month introductory promotion.

Standard rooms are currently Dh85, and small dogs can stay in smaller kennels for Dh80. Special rates will be available for customers involved with animal rescue.

The kennels can accommodate 27 dogs and 34 cats.

Other services include a veterinary clinic, doggy day care, dog training and a cat playroom. There are 13 staff, including two vets and a driver to pick up pets.

Ms Al Dhaheri graduated from the European International College, where she studied hotel management and tourism, last month, but she is ready to launch headlong into this new venture.

"Don't ask me because I can't tell you why I am passionate about animals," she said. "I am looking forward to being here at Cloud9 every moment."

If only Helmut were so lucky. After last night's party he returned home with his owner, his tail firmly between his legs.