Man's best friend will get the makeover of its life this weekend when Dubai's pet-owning community mobilises for the Pedigree and Whiskas Dubai Pet Show. The non-profit event, now in its 22nd year, attracts tens of thousands of people. Last year, it raised Dh71,000 for the animal charities Feline Friends and K9 Friends. For some, it is a chance to show off their dog's impeccable breeding and training in the pedigree ring, where, the website warns, "the judging will be serious". For others, it is the perfect opportunity to transform their four-legged friends into punk rockers, ballerinas and tuxedo-wearing James Bond types for the fancy dress competition.
It may seem odd to want your dog to take on a Superman persona (what, one wonders, must the other pets think?). But then, as Johanna Grijalba, a marketing director who is taking her Jack Russell/shih-tzu cross as a punk rocker, says, the dogs are none the wiser. "He won't know whether he's got on a T-shirt or not," she says, "so for him it's all the same. Of course he won't leap into the costume and jump for joy. It's more for humans, really."
This is the first pet show that Grijalba has attended with the three-year-old Monchichi. She won't, she says, spend a lot of time preparing his costume. "I'm making it up as I go along. It's just for fun. I'm not one of those crazy dog lovers who think it's really funny and exciting to dress them up." In fact, Grijalba's reasons for attending are rather more serious. "For me, it's to see what pet organisations are around and what they're doing, particularly when it comes to breeding, which is an issue I feel very strongly about." Left unregulated, the number of dogs here will get out of control, she believes. "You're not supposed to sell puppies here unless it's through a registered breeder, but I see puppies on Dubizzle all the time. To me, this is really irresponsible, especially somewhere like the Middle East, where it's not a pet-friendly environment. It's just blind cruelty, as far as I can see, because many of them will end up being abandoned."
For Grijalba, it will also be a way of getting more involved in the pet-owning community. "I'm quite proactive with certain groups," she says. "There aren't established groups or any real education about responsible pet ownership. I want to see if organisations are doing anything about that, or anything proactive about finding a place for animals to run around, because that doesn't really exist in Dubai at the moment."
There also needs to be more education around cultural sensitivities regarding dogs, she says. "There's a lot of fear about dogs in this country. And it's important to teach pet owners about the culture around them and to be sensitive to the fact that we're not in England where everyone bends over backwards for dogs. So I am very interested to see if these elements are going on, and if there's anyone interesting to talk to, or something I can help out with."
Rohit Katyal, a quality assurance manager at a printing press, who has ordered a tuxedo for his yellow Labrador retriever, Sandy, is looking forward to giving him a chance to socialise. "Unfortunately for him, there are not many outdoor activities for dogs here," he says, "so this is a good opportunity for him to go and mingle with other dogs." For Sandy's first appearance at the pet show, he ordered the tuxedo from Paws and Claws, a pet shop in Upper Mirdiff ("they didn't have many choices and this was the most attractive"). Does he like being trussed up in a shirt and bow tie? "In the winter he always wears a coat, so he's comfortable with that," Kaytal says.
He is also hoping that the pet show will unearth other opportunities within Dubai's pet community. "I can see what other things are going on here, and what other activities there are relating to pets." Kaytal has high hopes for Sandy. "He's a very handsome dog and his outfit is very nice," he says. If this year goes well, it will be onwards and upwards. "Let's see what happens this time and then maybe we'll enter more competitions next time." There is, though, one problem. "He hasn't been neutered yet. I'll be checking his behaviour this year to see if he's obedient enough to enter more competitions next year."
Anu Biswas is another first-timer at the pet show. She has entered her black Labrador, Stacey Black, in two competitions: Six Legs (which judges the bond between the owner and the dog) and Happiest Dog. "She's a goofy mutt," she says, "so she's quite a happy dog." Biswas, who works for a design and architecture company in Dubai, is also interested in seeing what the pet community here is like, having moved to Dubai from Muscat last year. "There was nothing of the kind in Muscat, so we're very excited about this. I don't really know what to expect, but I reckon if she's in an atmosphere where there are lots of other dogs and lots of food, she will really enjoy it."
Socialising, for Stacey, is rare, says Biswas. "I think being in a place like the Middle East, pets are pretty isolated. If you lived in the West you'd be able to take the dog everywhere. So it's going to be great for her to interact with other people and be out for the whole day." For the Six Legs competition, Biswas is entering Stacey with her 13-year-old daughter, Noyona. "My daughter loves her madly and can't be without her for longer than about two hours," she says, "so we're hoping she'll be able to show this beautiful bond they have."
She is considering entering the fancy dress competitions next year. "I think two is enough to start with, though," she says. "There's also a child handler event. I'm not really sure what that entails, but I'm hoping my daughter will have a chance to show off." For thousands of pets, tomorrow will indeed be the social event of the year. A word of warning, though: if you chance upon an excited-looking yellow Labrador retriever wearing a tuxedo, run for the hills.
The 22nd Pedigree and Whiskas Dubai Pet Show will take place tomorrow at Dubai Festival City from 8am to 6pm. Entrance for adults is Dh10. Children go free. All proceeds will be donated to K9 Friends and the Sharjah Cats and Dogs Shelter. For more information visit www.dubaipetshow.com.