South Africans spend thousands to ensure their fur babies live their best lives

Life is one long pawty for South Africa's pampered pets and it's not just the superrich who are splurging on things like R9,5k beds or photo shoots for their furry friends

17 June 2018 - 00:01 By Lisa Witepski
Karen Carr (seated) and Hanneke Schutte of Benji + Moon with some of their customers.
Karen Carr (seated) and Hanneke Schutte of Benji + Moon with some of their customers.
Image: Supplied

Some pet owners give themselves a pat on the back when they remember to bath Fido. Others believe their pet's week isn't complete without a visit to the spa, massage included. Meet the people driving South Africa's growing luxury pet industry.

Emma wakes up and has a long stretch. She's still a little tired: yesterday's photo shoot was hard work. Still, no time for lollygagging - she has to decide what to wear. Perhaps her Harrods hoodie, or maybe the red coat she snapped up at Bloomingdales? Either way, she has the perfect accessory in mind - the new collar that's an exact match for her best friend's bracelet. So far, so Joburg northern suburbs. Except that Emma isn't a housewife or even an executive; she's a 10-year-old Bijon Frise.

Now meet Safeera Mayet, who gives new meaning to the term "cat lady": she cured her allergy to cat hair by adopting a rescue - and then gave him seven brothers and sisters. These coddled cats frolic in a cat corner that set their humans back R30,000. They have a custom-made scratching post, fashioned to look like an old VW truck, sleep on Tempur mattresses, regularly visit a healer who cleanses their auras and they eat from electronic feeders.

These coddled cats frolic in a cat corner that set their humans back R30,000

Their "mother" spends a lot of her time researching the latest feline fads - everything from treats to scratching posts and furniture; a pastime she loves.

"It's so worth it. Their love is unconditional. They're exactly like children - and you'd want your children to go to the best school, wouldn't you?"

Emma's mother, Deirdre King's, indulgences are motivated by a similar sentiment. She admits to having spent $60 (R761) on doggie coats on one occasion - but, she says, she believes that people have a huge responsibility as the caretakers of animals.

"They should be treated with as much love and care as any other being. The unconditional love you receive in return is well worth the effort and expense."

For other owners it's a case of making good on other people's mistakes. Ilda Lima, who tops up her dogs' toy box weekly, says both pets were rescues, and deserve to know that not all humans are bad.

Though Mayet sources most of her loot from overseas retailers, there's a growing range of local companies catering to pet owners who want to make their fur kids feel special.

Friendship Collar creates bracelet/collar combos so dogs and owners can wear matching accessories, with prices from R449 to R799.

To celebrate puppy's birthday, Mimi and Munch will put together a "pawty platter" (feeding 10 dogs) for R420 (or R520 if your pup prefers to go wheat-free), featuring everything from peanut-butter doggy doughnuts to apple pretzels and the company's signature handmade treats. You can also order an apple and peanut-butter cake, with pawty packs for all your best friends' best friends.

Then there's the furniture. Who wants a plain old basket when they can recline on a handcrafted bed from All About Dogs? They may cost R4,000 for a small bed, but owner Amanda Colantoni says the company sells about five beds every month; primarily to "high net worth individuals who wish to match their expensive décor with our stylish and durable pet furniture".

The décor factor is also a big consideration for customers at Swanky Mongrel. Ronelle Ernst says she started the business in 2015 because she couldn't find anything that suited both her chihuahuas and her home, but what began as a side hustle is now her main business. The most expensive bed she's sold? An oak bed with leather cushions, setting its owner back R9,500.

It stands to reason that an owner who is pedantic about their pet's bed is not going to feel comfortable leaving them alone while they're at work, or even if they're out for a few hours. Enter the pet hotel.

Five-star ventures like AtFrits in Cape Town and Must Love Dogs in Chartwell make the kennels of old look positively Dickensian. Sure, they might set you back between R375 and R500 a night, but they're establishments Sol Kerzner would be proud to put his name to.

Sure, five-star pet hotels might set you back between R375 and R500 a night, but they're establishments Sol Kerzner would be proud to put his name to

Owners of both hotels say their clientele are not confined to the superrich. Inneke Boyle, who launched Must Love Dogs in 2010, says it's not their LSM group which defines her small but loyal customer base; rather, it's a mind-set based on giving their pets the very best.

She interviews the family of each "guest" before allowing them to stay; once checked in, they can look forward to Wendyhouses equipped with heaters, special themed décor and, in the case of the penthouses, TVs.

AtFrits, meanwhile, strives to replicate a home environment, with specially trained staff (feeders, walkers and sitters) to attend to their every need - plus, you can keep tabs on them with 24-hour camera surveillance.

Interestingly, none of these businesses is simply about making a buck. Without exception they were established in answer to a loving owner's pet problem; almost all donate a percentage of their profits to an animal-related charity.

But are these businesses sustainable? Yes, says Karen Carr of Benji + Moon, purveyors of handcrafted pet accessories. She says in the three years since the company's launch the number of industry players has increased significantly. And she believes there's room for more growth: "In South Africa pet products are crossing over from the pet store and into the lifestyle space," she points out.

The market purchasing luxury pet products also plays a role. Carr says customers are predominantly women who have not had children or are not planning to, and who have a profound love for their fur-children. Women whose children have left for university form another big category.

"Our pets have become our children; we humanise them. They have become an integral part of our families. With millennials postponing marriage and starting a family, this trend is set to continue - as shown by how the pet market has taken off internationally. South Africa will definitely continue to grow," she concludes.