The theme was Scooby Doo and at the entrance of the birthday party hall was a hand-painted arrow directing visitors to "the haunted castle''. Inside, the room was spookily decorated. White balloons with eerie faces hung from the ceiling while a juke box cranked out some groaning, moaning sounds.
In the corner sat a man dressed as a tramp handing out clues to hunt for treasure. And, in the centre of the hall, on a low table, stood the pièce de résistance - a cake shaped like a huge, juicy bone.
Just in case you are wondering, the party was organised by the owner of a Pekingese to celebrate her pet's second birthday and was attended by no fewer than 15 dogs of all sizes, colours and breeds. It may sound over the top for parents of a toddler, let alone a pet, but owners of ‘fur children' go to extraordinary lengths to show their love.
Three times a week Archana Menon drops off her seven-month old Sprocker puppy, Alfie, at a Dubai day care, where he gets to play with other dogs. When she picks him up at the end of the day, she receives a complete report on what Alfie has been up to all day - much as parents would when they pick up their children from the nursery. The day care costs around Dh600 a month, but Archana doesn't mind.
"It's important Alfie gets to socialise with other dogs and expends his energy, something that he doesn't get to do as much as we would like as we live in an apartment," she smiles. Alfie is also allergic, so no table scraps for him. The pup only gets to eat organic gourmet treats from specialist Dubai pet food provider, Barkey Bites Bakery - its organic peanut butter cookies being a special favourite.
Archana, who also shares ownership of another dog Elmo, a three-year-old Bichon Frise-Havanese mix, with her friend Arif Ladabhoy - joint custody, as she laughingly describes it - remembers a holiday in Los Angeles when she returned with a trolley full of gifts, just for her dog. "I love to lavish attention on my pets,'' says Archana, who is single.
Cats are part of the party scene too
It's not just pooches that are pampered though - cats get their fair share of over-indulgence too. Dubai-based Minal Bodani used to pull out all the stops when it came to her pet feline, Khush.
Every year there would be a huge celebration with cake and party hats and goody bags for all guests at her pet cat's birthday bash. Khush's birthday parties were affairs to remember. "We celebrated his birthday and went through the whole doolally of organising a party for our cat," recalls Minal.
Sadly, Khush died five years ago. The family's current pet, Inspector Nibbles, is a handsome six-year-old Volpino, a small Spitz-type dog who, as Minal cheerfully confesses, is completely spoiled.
Inspector Nibbles is also a metrosexual dog, if there were such a term for an animal. He sports a bright pink Swarovski crystal-studded collar, has a wardrobe full of designer T-shirts, never misses his monthly grooming sessions with mobile pet spa Shampooch, sleeps in his owner's bed, travels with the family to the UK and loves his gourmet treats.
It's a dog's life, or is it?
Welcome to the world of today's pet lovers - a unique breed unto themselves who don't think twice about throwing expensive birthday parties, have play dates, hotel vacations and even weddings for them.
That's why it's no surprise that even when the economy is not particularly in a dog wag tail mood, spending on pets isn't going down. Ask any pet store owner and they will tell you that the business in pet-related services is booming - the UAE's growing number of dedicated spas, resorts, day care facilities and pet accessories stores are witness to that.
As Samir Shroff, owner of Pampered Pets in Dubai, says, "I think the connection people form with their pets is often one of the longest, strongest relationships in their lives. They are a source of unconditional love, endless kisses and cuddles, which could never be calculated."
Samir, who shares his home with five Chihuahuas - Chewy, Hugo, Chanel, Calvin and six-month old Sugar - says he likes spoiling them with new treats and toys every few days.
"My most extravagant purchases have been Swarovski-studded bespoke beds from Las Vegas on each of my dog's first birthdays. The velvet bed coverings have their initials embroidered on them."
Possibly one of the most decadent accessories in store at Pampered Pets (www.pamperedpets.ae) are feeding bowls in marble, granite or even gold-plated by luxe brand Unleashed Life that cost up to Dh2,000.
"Even before the goods arrived in store, we had a waiting list of orders," says Samir, preferring to keep the names of clients confidential. And if you're looking for haute couture for your hound, Samir also stocks clothes by Manfred of Sweden, a collection that features outfits in leather and silk, with rhinestones, pearls, crystals and emeralds.
Pampered Pets offers a gamut of accessories; from the pretty useful to very decadent: from orthopaedic beds for senior dogs (starting at Dh600) and potty systems for apartment dwellers (from Dh500) to ultra-suede collars studded with Swarovski crystals (from Dh400) and interactive motion activated cat toys with LED lights (from Dh55). Coming soon are tree houses made from mature dragonwood trees to give cats a realistic outdoor experience. These will retail from Dh600 to Dh4,000.
Only the best will do
Dubai-based Scottish-Iraqi expatriate Bahr Karim admits spending anywhere between Dh1,000 and Dh2,000 a month on his two toy Maltese puppies, Fufu and Mofo. "They have umpteen chew toys and I sometimes think their sleeping arrangements are even better than mine."
Bahr's dogs sleep on exquisite dog beds upholstered in leather, which can be moved around the house to the most comfortable spot the pooches prefer. "Although I'm constantly cleaning up after them now [as they are just a few months old], they have added a lot of warmth to our lives," he says.
While the jury is still out on whether diamond necklaces and taffeta tutus make our pets feel better, there is no denying that grooming, specially formulated foods and socialising go a long way to making a companion animal feel secure, happier and healthier. Many owners here pamper their pets because they're rescued from the streets and they want to make up for their past hardships.
Elspeth Moore, manager at Dubai's Urban Tails resort, billed as the city's first seven-star boarding for pets, says, "Many of the cats and dogs that come to stay with us have been rescued by their owners from the streets of the UAE. In fact much of our daily routine is to ensure that we support the owners' work in helping their pets to trust and interact with humans again. I remember nervous, anxious dogs arriving for the first time and leaving happy and confident."
Elspeth recalls the first time one of her regular doggy guests arrived - in a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce, no less. The owners have since left the UAE, but used to regularly drop their pet off for holidays at Urban Tails.
A home away from home
A year old now, Urban Tails (www.urbantailsdubai.com) also provides day care and boot camps. Located in Dubai Investment Park, it is the brainchild of Aideen O'Mara, who wanted to provide a stress-free environment for pets. Owners can check in their pets and rest assured that their furry friends are being looked after just as they would be at home.
The accommodation, like the guests, comes in various sizes: from Junior Suites for small breeds with a price tag of Dh115 a night, to exclusive Royal Suites with extra luxurious services and a ‘butler' on call for Dh395 per night. Owners can check in on their beloved pets via a webcam, from anywhere in the world.
When it comes to caring for people's pets, no request is too strange or unusual. "We have a feline guest who only drinks water out of the tap, so she must be carried several times a day out of the protected environs of the cattery to a bathroom, where she can have her drink," says Elspeth. "And we have another cat who only drinks out of a pint glass. Then we have pets who are only on raw food diets.
"I don't think any request is over the top when it comes to a pet, because to most people, pets are like their children. If your child went to a private school or on a skiing holiday, is that over the top?"
Before their stay, a detailed questionnaire about their animal's diet, behaviour and pedigree is filled in online. And once they arrive, pets can enjoy daily grooming sessions, play with other ‘guests', lounge by the pool and have plenty of cuddles. Even the muzak at this resort is specially composed tunes designed to reduce the pet's stress.
Feline facilities include ‘en-suite' condos and a Kitty Jungle for cats to explore and climb when out of their condos. If they are bored, they can curl up and sleep in the comfy armchair. Fully air conditioned and specially designed to cut down noise levels and minimise stress, all the facilities and suites are spanking clean.
Another business that caters to Dubai's stylish pooches is Dogwalk. Gui Palanque, managing partner, says, "Dogwalk is a five-star all-in-one dog centre, gathering in the same place all the services a dog owner can look for. We provide the convenience and personal attention the Dubai population is used to having all around, now extended to their pets. Think about a concierge service for the dog owner, that's us!"
At Dogwalk, man's best friends can indulge in a bit of hydrotherapy, work out in the state-of-the-art gym, get an aromatherapy massage or a colour dye job, and get to socialise too. Dogwalk also organises events such as Halloween parties for dog owners and their pets to mingle.
The boutique stocks exclusive products to protect against the UAE's climate: doggles (sunglasses for dogs), boots to protect paws from the hot pavements in summer, coolvests and bandanas to keep a dog's temperature down when they go on a walk, and even sunscreen that's especially good for dogs with white coats.
Ayman Al Saleh is one of those pet owners who believes animal companions should be treated to the best. His Pomeranians - Foxy Brown, six, and five-year-old China White, - get to chew on Gucci toys and eat out of Bottega Veneta bowls.
Ayman is also co-founder and managing partner of Tail-Waggin' Mobile Pet Spa, a caravan fitted out with grooming facilities that caters to clientele in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. "Some clients want punk hairstyles and coloured nails for their dogs. They totally treat their pets as lifestyle accessories. Our treatments start at Dh50 for nail clipping, all the way to Dh275 for a full groom of a large dog," he says.
If it's good enough for humans…
From organic gourmet food and doga (ie yoga for dogs) to luxury spa breaks and eco-friendly vacations, almost every lifestyle trend followed by humans has a canine equivalent. In the West, American domestic airline Pet Airways even flies your dogs in special pets-only planes, where they travel in the cabin, not the cargo. (And we're sure the Chinese tycoon who paid $1.5 million for his pet Tibetan Mastiff probably has a chartered plane for the pooch too.)
British expatriate Tracy Stembridge has had pets all her life - dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits and horses. Arriving in Dubai with her Pekingese named Gomez, she went on to adopt another Pekingese, Fester, five years ago from the K9 dog shelter. He had been badly neglected and abandoned by his previous owners, but with love and care he is now a bright-eyed, happy dog. At Christmas, they get a stocking filled with six presents each.
Tracy's other dog, Pixie, is a Shih Tzu, with a missing left front leg but her proud owner says, "Pixie still runs around at top speed. It doesn't stop her at all."
Tracy spent Dh35,000 on hip replacement surgery for Fester, but there are no regrets. "My life would be empty without my dogs, they are like my children," she says. Tracy, a personal trainer who is also a specialist wedding cake maker, says her dogs get treated to all sorts of baked goodies (made without sugar, raisins or chocolate).
Her dogs have led to her being on national TV while in the UK a few times: when she was 11 she entered her Yorkshire Terrier in a competition for Britain's brightest dog. The dog won and Tracy was interviewed on TV, much to her parents' bemusement who didn't know she had entered the competition.
Her bull mastiff was featured in a documentary on the breed that is still being aired on the Discovery Channel, and she has also done a catwalk show with a collie on TV.
Dubai-based PR executive Rani Ilmi too, has a menagerie of pets: three cats, two dogs, eight birds, a turtle and a rabbit, in her Jumeirah villa. "Everyone in my family loves animals and most of our pets have been rescued. I love splurging on doggie manicures and grooming sessions for my miniature poodle."
Rani spends around Dh500 a month on pets' food, apart from the occasional splurge on special treats for birthdays.
From exclusive hotel rooms to fine facilities, it's clear that when it comes to being stylish, the UAE's pet owners will not leave their pooches begging.