Four lessons learnt as a dog owner in Dubai

If you want to feel a sense of community in Dubai, all you need is a four-legged friend

Selina's dog, Kiva. Courtesy Mohamed Al Shahaibi
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It looks like some kind of multi-species meditation circle. A series of stunning dogs sit by their owners in statue-like silence, a vignette of picture-perfect canine behaviour. And then we arrive. As Kiva hurtles, jumps, slobbers and clambers over dogs and humans alike, I follow in her wake, with an increasingly frantic “come girl… come… here… please?” I may be imagining it, but it feels like there’s a collective eye roll from the circle of canine contentment.

That was our first visit to the dog park near my house in Jumeirah Village Triangle – subsequent visits have been slightly less stressful. It is now four months since my family unit grew to include one very boisterous chocolate Labrador, and while Kiva has been busy chewing her way through most of my belongings, I have been learning some interesting lessons about dog ownership in the UAE.

#1: It helps you feel part of your community

Lesson one – as it turns out, if you want to feel a sense of community in Dubai, all you need is a four-legged friend. I have been living in JVT for five years, and bar my direct neighbours on one side, have had scant opportunity to interact with anyone else in my ’hood. But there are few better conversation starters than an adorable-looking puppy. Strangers are always coming up to introduce themselves (to Kiva, not me, obviously) and have a chat (with Kiva, not me, obviously). In the process, we have both made new friends. There are now regular play dates in the park with the lovely couple from District 4; group doggy outings to the beach; and impromptu walks with the friendly Finnish lady from across the way, who has even had us over to her house for tea.

Selina's dog, Kiva. Courtesy Mohamed Al Shahaibi
Selina's dog, Kiva. Courtesy Mohamed Al Shahaibi

All this time, unbeknown to me, there was this army of people pounding the pavement just outside my house, canine friends in tow, like some kind of secret sub-community. Having a dog has forced me to get out and join them – to experience my neighbourhood at street level. I have discovered parks, children's play areas and tennis courts where a tiny pup might safely learn to fetch. And on our travels, we have witnessed the entire microcosm of Dubai dog-life. There are pooches that are impeccably behaved and those that are not (my pup falls quite firmly into the latter category); there are rescue dogs, pedigree dogs, big dogs and teeny ones; there are owners who have delegated walking duties to their maids; owners who pick up after their dogs and owners who leave such business to others; there are those who walk their dogs without a lead, and others who furiously take to Facebook to lambast them for doing so.

#2: Everyone likes to judge

Lesson two – everyone likes to judge. My friends with actual, real, human children, as opposed to furry substitutes, have long tried to tell me how sanctimonious other parents can be. Dog owners are much the same. I have come to dread the question (disdainfully asked by someone who is invariably attached to a rescued Saluki): "Did you buy her? From a pet shop?" I try to explain why this was the right choice for me and my specific set of circumstances, that I already have rescue cats, that I'm not evil, or uncharitable or shallow, but it is too late. I have been judged.


Read more from Selina:

Writing Dubai off as one-dimensional only shows your own blinkered view

Why ageing in Dubai is a particularly painful process

Maybe the sisterhood does exist, after all


#3: There are few public places we can go

Kiva the labrador at Al Qudra lakes before the dog ban.
Kiva the labrador at Al Qudra lakes before the dog ban.

Another lesson – although this one is no surprise. While JVT might be a little oasis of dog-friendly activity, Dubai is a remarkably un-dog-friendly city. There are very few public spaces where dogs are welcome, and most parks and beaches are no-go areas. There is a growing number of dog-friendly restaurants across the city, including the Lime Tree Cafes, Arrows and Sparrows in The Greens, Breeze Beach Grill and The Tap House in Club Vista Mare on The Palm, and a smattering of places in JLT – but these are still in the minority. Even Al Qudra Lakes, that long-standing dog-walker favourite, has been declared a dog-free zone in recent months – a major blow to dog owners' summer sanity.

#4: I'm in the wrong profession 

My final lesson? I should have been a vet. It is four months since my family unit grew to include one very expensive chocolate Labrador – and I have almost been bankrupted in the interim. Routine check-ups, stomach bugs, a respiratory-tract infection, deworming, antibiotics and vaccinations have been steadily decimating my bank balance. Thousands of dirhams have switched hands, and while Kiva is worth every penny, I can safely say that I chose the wrong profession.