R10k on pets treats: South Africans are going wild pampering their fur babies
If you could time travel and reincarnate you wouldn't be doing too badly coming back as Snowy, Kyubi or Sadie, circa spring 2019. So loved are these pooches that their days are a pampered bliss of designer birthday cakes, wardrobes of cute kit, home-away-from-home hotels and even "limo" services to and from their spa days.
Next-level pet pampering has evolved. Dogs come in for the best of it, though cats, bunnies and guinea pigs get their fair share from besotted owners. It's thanks to advances in medical science and even our patterns of conspicuous consumption.
The child-free generation is also choosing to spend disposable income on providing for their pets' wellbeing without the burden of university funds to grow. Celebrity pet aspiration is a real goal, given that Meghan Markle's adopted beagle, Guy, made it onto the royal wedding guest list, apparently. And a dog like Iggy Joey is a certified fashion icon with 75K Instagram followers.
Back in Nietgedacht, north of Joburg, Maltese poodles Snowy and Mitch are checking into the Must Love Dogs hotel. Soft music plays under a gazebo and a duvet is spread on the lawn for the dogs to snuggle on. There are plastic pool shells for splashing in and hotel staff throw balls, give strokes and say "there's a good girl" to get tails wagging.
Chubby and Paul Sonderup are about to travel to China for 10 days. "I wasn't going to go because I didn't want to leave these two," Chubby says as the dogs jump on her legs. Paul's company, though, agreed to foot the doggy hotel bill of about R5,000.
"The staff have cameras on them so they take pictures and videos all day that they send to us," says Chubby.
Owner Ineke Ann Boyle started her business in 2010 and made her mark as a luxury hotel for dogs. She says it's less about the treats and the pampering - which are a given - and more about giving the dogs a sense of space to be free and to feel loved till they're reunited with their owners.
"Kennel is a swear word," says Boyle, who gives each would-be client an interview followed by a 10-page questionnaire that details everything from their food choices and quirks to their socialisation levels. This helps to match them to one of the sherbet-coloured Wendy houses that are the suites. Each suite is decorated as a miniature home, with flower pots on the porches, working TVs, artwork and of course doggy-sized sofas.
"The dogs love it here and they settle down quite quickly," says Boyle.
It's true. Snowy stops whimpering a few minutes after Chubby and Paul drive away. She and Mitch start exploring their suite and make friends with Boyle's own pack of pooches.
Hotels are just one of the industries that have responded to the demands of high-end clients who check in with their pets. The likes of Vancouver's Fairmont Hotel in Canada offer four-legged guests a bespoke leather collar and matching leash on arrival, an hour-long professional photo shoot and a menu of everything from prime beef steak and rotisserie chicken to steel-cut oats, organic vegetables and mineral water.
Also on the market are personal trainers for pets, treadmills designed for dogs and cats, berry facials and reflexology services. Owners can throw "barkmitzvahs", set up puppy play dates and even use the services of a companion care animal to help animals at vets and animal hospitals feel less anxious.
SA is catching up with these trends. At Twisted Whiskers Pet Deli and Spa in Bryanston, Johannesburg, clients have been known to spend R10,000 in one go on dog treats. The shop stocks soya-based eco-friendly kitty litter, memory foam beds, imported toys and treats and the most advanced imported science diets.
Katja Bier is a vet and owner of the shop that now has two branches. She says science has helped animals live longer. That's made domestic pets better companion animals and has driven pet owners to spend more lavishly on their pets.
In the adjoining spa, Bier shows off the Jacuzzi with rubberised slip-proof coatings and specially fitted jets set low so even little dogs can get the relaxing treatment. The dogs can get massages while they're having a designer cut and Bier says they can also be sent for dry-needling and hydrotherapy.
"Some clients have very specific needs and bring in photos of cuts they want, and some prefer to bring in their own towels for their pets' sensitive skins. We understand because pets are a part of the family," Bier says.
Across town in Senderwood is Mimi & Munch, Jade Factor's bakery for dogs. "I've kept baking because people clearly enjoy celebrating their fur babies," she says. A bestseller is the liver-lover cake shaped like a dog bone. She also makes gluten-free and vegan dog treats because dog owners extend their dietary choices to their pets, she says.
Among Factor's clients are Chanelle and Kyle Hariparsad and their two-year-old Yorkie Kyubi. Chanelle and Kyle celebrate Kyubi's birthday every year. They can't leave a mall without picking up a treat for their "boy baby". "He loves it when we dress him because he knows we're going out," says Chanelle, showing off Kyubi's clothes, which include hoodies, a Santa elf outfit, even a doggie tie.
These days the couple's families accept that Kyubi is their fur baby. They buy gifts for Kyubi on his birthday and at Christmas. Kyle admits that Kyubi rules the roost.
"He doesn't like it if we are talking to each other and he's not sitting on our laps getting some attention. But it's worth it to have him greet you at the door after a bad day at work," Kyle says.
Michele Khoury's Toy French Poodle Sadie is her "only daughter" and "her best-behaved child". The six-year-old pooch has clothes and collars from all over the world and is dressed up every day. Sadie is Khoury's constant companion, including being pushed in a pram to dog-friendly restaurants, shops and even to shul, where "she is very well-behaved and doesn't talk".
Khoury admits she's spent loads on Sadie from a specialist vet to dentistry and of course clothes, collars and charms. "It's a lot, but you can never have enough right, Sadie?" she says, as Sadie's holds her gaze and licks her face.
It's unconditional love, and the price tag is inconsequential really for those who prefer pampered paw prints to be left on their human hearts.