With more places welcoming canines, is Dubai now becoming dog-friendly?

With more restaurants opening their doors to pet pooches and news of the first dog-friendly desert camping spot, is the tide finally turning?

Dog owners can now go glamping in the desert with their dogs. Courtesy Starlight
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It is notoriously difficult being a dog-owner in the UAE. First you have to deal with the sweltering summer heat, which means you have to be out walking at the crack of dawn or in the dead of night to make sure your pooch gets some exercise, but doesn't collapse from heat ­exhaustion. Then there's the fact that most people you meet are terrified at the mere sight of your adorable four-legged friend.

But the hardest thing about being a dog-owner in the UAE is the fact that it is illegal to take your pooch pretty much anywhere – Dubai’s beaches, parks, walkways and in many cases residential buildings remain strictly off-limits. In Europe, you’ll find canine companions on public transport and in shops, restaurants and cafes – not so in the UAE.

Dog-owners here have been left with the option of illicit visits to Al Qudra Lakes or Jebel Ali’s so-called “dog beach”, which dog-owners have claimed as their own, but where they must remain wary of visits by Dubai Municipality officers wielding threats of considerable fines. In order for your pet to get a real run-around, you have to take it to one of the city’s growing number of doggy day care centres, but at about Dh80 a pop, that can quickly become an expensive way to keep them entertained.

And yet, last weekend, a friend (and fellow dog-owner) and I took our pet pooches to the dog park in The Greens, a dedicated, AstroTurfed plot on the edge of the community where dogs are welcome to wander at will. There's a sand pit, water bowls and taps dotted around the perimeter, free waste bags and lots of opportunities for socialising – of the doggy and human variety. It's a small space, admittedly, but a beacon of hope for doggy-owners who have long ­struggled to find anywhere to let their pets run free. If only more communities in the emirate would follow suit.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. August 23, 2015 - Stock photograph of dog owners at the Greens Dog Park in Dubai, August 23, 2015. (Photo by: Sarah Dea/The National, Story by: Samoglu/News)
 *** Local Caption ***  SDEA230815-dogwalking08.JPG
Dog owners at the Greens Dog Park in Dubai. Sarah Dea/The National

Afterwards, we wandered over to Arrows & Sparrows, a cafe, also in The Greens, where dogs are welcomed with open arms. It was filled to the brim but, luckily, the place immediately next door, Nonna's Italian Food Bar, no doubt used to taking in the overspill, is equally happy to receive canine customers.

On Saturday, I met some friends for lunch at Reform Social & Grill, a popular eatery in Emirates Hills, and was delighted to discover that it, too, has become a dog-friendly space. Given the number of children running about and the existence of a bouncy castle in the garden, I'm sure that bringing my overzealous labrador to this particular spot would be a recipe for disaster, but it is nice to have the option.

Reform joins the likes of Breeze Beach Grill at Club Vista Mare on Palm Jumeirah, Cycle Bistro in Motor City and Life’n One in Jumeirah in opening its doors to furry patrons. And news this week that there’s a new dog-­friendly desert camp in operation might mean the tide is finally turning. The Starlight Camp features a single 30-square-metre domed tent, with a queen-size bed, electricity sockets, Bluetooth speaker, showers and ­toilets and, on request, dog beds. Most importantly, for every third booking made by people staycationing with their furry friends, the operators of the camp will sponsor a K9 Friends dog for a year.

It might be ambitious to call Dubai a dog-friendly city at the moment … but it is certainly heading in the
right direction.