Dubai is full of off-the-wall ideas, which is why we weren’t particularly surprised when we heard about the new dog fashion and fitness centres opening in the city. Among the souped-up cars and yachts, a Paris Hilton-style chihuahua being paraded around in a Versace handbag would be right at home on JBR Walk. But the new Dogwalk centre on Jumeirah Beach Road takes this wave of doggy obsession to new heights.
Owner Gui Palanque is potty about dogs and has previously dabbled in canine hydrotherapy (yes, that’s Jacuzzi therapy for dogs). She saw a gap in the Dubai market and took a chance. ‘We realised that the quality of services and products provided for dogs here was below the level of other services in Dubai,’ Gui explains. ‘So it just seemed the perfect place to develop this project.’
Her centre offers a doggy boutique, where you can buy frilly collars, fashion and natural foods, as well as a spa, where your pet can be exfoliated, shedded and groomed. If you’ve over-fed your canine, never fear: the centre also boasts a dog treadmill, swimming pool and fitness activities to help shed the extra puppy fat. There’s even a fun park, with an outdoor playground where dogs can meet other canines. Then, when they’re all worn out, you can sign them up for a reiki session, afternoon tea or a massage. It’s not a bad life.
We asked Gui if she was worried whether Dubai, a nation not known for its love of dogs, would understand this doggy funhouse. ‘There are some misconceptions and prejudices regarding dogs [in Dubai]. Dogs are perceived in different ways by different cultures.’ She explains that in the UAE, there is a lack of information and fear of the unknown. ‘But it is not a matter of nationalities or religion. People approach us from all backgrounds, even the ones you would least expect.’
While the concept may seem a little barmy to non-dog owners, they may have the wrong end of the stick, so to speak. Staff at the centre include qualified vets who are entirely dedicated to dog rehabilitation and reducing pain, improving movement and mobility in dogs. ‘Rehabilitation involves the use of non-invasive techniques such as physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, acupuncture and exercise therapy to help restore optimal form and function,’ says Gui. So while they do throw Halloween parties for the dogs and their owners, there is a more serious side to the business.
British-born Dubai resident Kim Blair swears by the service. Her 12-year-old golden retriever, Jodie, suffers from arthritis, so Kim signed her up for a block of 10 sessions at Dogwalk. ‘It’s definitely worked,’ says Kim.
‘Dogwalk recommends supplements [available in store], which she takes alongside the training and swimming to relax her muscles.’ And for a city that isn’t hugely pet friendly – with strict restrictions on where dogs can be walked, for example – Kim believes things are looking up. ‘It’s all about looking after your pet,’ she explains. ‘This is a really useful service to have in Dubai, especially for old dogs.’
Dogwalk is not the only place that has noticed the need for more doggie hangouts. A new park called Paws Pet Planet, in Dubai Investment Park, opened in October offering daycare for dogs – much like a crèche, it has a huge outdoor play space where owners can leave their canines for the day. Dog owner Rebecca Rees frequently leaves her dog, a Saluki called Sam, there while she’s at work. ‘When I take Sam, there are usually about 10 dogs playing together,’ she explains. The centre also offers a pick-up service for ultra-busy people, or those who live further away.
But is she worried about Sam’s safety, or whether he could catch any diseases from other dogs? ‘That doesn’t worry me at all,’ she explains. ‘All dog owners must prove that their pet has had the correct vaccinations, and one of the good things about having a dog in Dubai is that everyone has to provide a municipality tag. The Paws Pet Planet centre is really well run – it’s mentally stimulating for the dogs and great for their health.’
Dogwalk, Villa 200, Jumeirah Beach Road, www.dogwalkonline.com (04 344 6945). Paws Pet Planet, Dubai Investment Park, near Green Community, www.pawspetplanet.com (04 884 8894)