Meet the Pawrents

When you have a pet that gives you unconditional love, being its parent becomes a full-time commitment. While some humans still cannot wrap their heads around having “fur babies”, there are many who have taken pet parenting as their biggest responsibility in life


Sushmita Bose

Published: Thu 29 Sep 2022, 7:16 PM

I had a fair idea of pet parenting before the term became a part of modern-day vocab. Ever since I attained consciousness, I was witness to my grandmother being a ‘parent’ to her dog Poppy. She was a sort of single parent since my grandfather couldn’t figure out what the fuss was all about. Poppy was a pampered child, clearly the favourite of the four she mothered (the other three, my dad and my two uncles, were the semi-neglected human ones). He wouldn’t eat unless she fed him chunks of boiled meat and liver mixed in rice by hand; he would sulk in a corner if she was late in administering him his meals, and then turn his face away when she tried to make amends… it was only after she baby talked for a good 10 minutes, lapsing into torrents of endearments, that he would relent.

Whenever my grandparents travelled, Poppy would accompany them; my grandfather would roll his eyes, but gave in every single time to his wife’s demand. There was one time when they went on a weeklong cruise and couldn’t take Poppy along. For those seven days, my grandmother fretted endlessly, and it turned out to be a nightmare of a vacation. When they returned, Poppy — who has been left in the care of the extended family — was a wreck. He had barely eaten, hadn’t wagged his tail even once, and used to sit for hours on end near the main door, waiting for it to open and my grandmother to walk in.

Poppy lived for 17 years, never leaving my grandmother’s side (except for those seven days of the cruise), and when he moved on to the happy hunting grounds — sometime in the 1980s — my grandmother was inconsolable, and told everyone who came to pay their condolences that “I’ve lost my youngest son.”

My grandmother and her ‘son’ Poppy were foremost on my mind when I worked on this story. But I also remembered Dubai’s Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed — who, earlier this year, adopted Grace, a rescue dog who had been badly injured and then abandoned by her original human family. A video where he tells her, “Hello Grace, you’re in safe hands now and I guarantee you will be happier” went viral and won over millions of hearts. Dubai’s Crown Prince sent out a strong message that day: a pet is a family member.

Claude Al Hachache

“I never planned to be a pet parent in Dubai... as you know, we work hard and are almost never home. But Gigi, my Maltese, was what they call an ‘oops child’ in human terms: I saw her and fell in love with her. Six years ago, seeing her struggling in a tiny glass window broke my heart, and I bought her. I got judged by many for ‘buying’ a dog when I could have adopted one, but I strongly believe, that day, I saved Gigi from being someone’s toy... Today, she is my whole world, I never thought I could love anyone the way I love her. I adopted Shadow, my cat, a year after getting Gigi… My other cats, my ‘little ones’, the 1-year-old ones — Magic and Stormy [siblings] — are also adopted.

There is a huge difference between loving pets as a family member and having them for a selfish reason — which is why so many people leave pets behind when they relocate from Dubai. There can be no excuses for those who do that saying they couldn’t afford them or will have no space for them back in their home country. I don’t see them leaving a child behind — so why leave your pet? Having a pet is a commitment for as long as they live — which I’m hoping is for a very long time.

My pets completely changed my life, taught me to be patient, to spend more time at home and to work less… For instance, I used to be a workaholic, but Gigi got me out every day for her walks no matter how tired or stressed I was. When I come home, seeing how happy they are to see me makes me forget all my tiredness. My circle of friends and activities changed, as I needed to find friends with similar interests... and those who have pets. I take Gigi to the doggy park or for play dates with her friends — but she needs to come back home to sleep!

When I’m walking Gigi, sometimes people say we look the same — especially the hair! We actually do look alike… and if they say sorry thinking they may have offended me, I tell them that I’m actually honoured to look like a pure soul such as her. I think pets and their parents tend to look and behave the same!”

Rebecca Rees

“Between myself and my partner Paul, we have four Salukis. I have two beautiful Saluki mixes: Sam is a Saluki crossed with a German Shepherd and Ella is a Saluki-Dalmatian mix — although she doesn’t have any spots! Sam is 16, and still going strong. Ella is 12, and a lazy girl these days! Paul has Namr, which means tiger in Arabic [Namr is striped]. His other dog — currently a foster — is called Johara, meaning ‘jewel’.

My dogs are my babies, and their wellbeing is central to my world. Owning pets is a big responsibility, and cannot be taken lightly: one needs to dedicate time and energy, and, of course, have the financial means to support them — food, vet’s appointments, boarding costs when you’re away… they all add up.

I grew up with dogs — since I was four. I had been in Dubai for four years before I got Sam. Initially, I ‘borrowed’ him from K9 Friends for the weekend back in 2010… I was going through a bit of a rough patch emotionally, and wanted to do something to lift my spirit and help an animal in need. I got Sam home… and he never went back to K9. A week later, I signed adoption papers and he was mine forever.

Being a Saluki, he needed to run, so a year down the line, I rented a villa at Jumeirah Village Triangle, where the gardens are huge. Not long after, I got a call from a dog rescue organisation asking if I wanted a friend for Sam. It had never crossed my mind to get a second, but when I met Amira (meaning ‘princess’), as she was then called, I couldn’t say no. I took her home to make sure she and Sam got along — and it was as if they had been partners in crime forever. Two days later, more adoption papers were signed and I renamed her Ella.

A few days after that, I realised I had dogs called Sam ‘n’ Ella — so I tend to say Ella and Sam to avoid any food poisoning connotations! I’ve now had the two of them for 12 years.

My personal view is that a pet is for life. I cannot imagine giving mine up… However, I understand that everybody’s circumstances are different and if giving a dog up is in the animal’s best interest, then I would rather an owner did so… no point keeping a pet they will not care for... so give it to someone who can. That being said, it should be a last resort.

My dogs celebrate any occasion going! I will dress them up in UAE colours for National Day, and for the Queen’s Jubilee they were decked out in red, white and blue. With the World Cup on the way, the England scarves will come out too.

On their birthdays, they get liver cake. Sounds horrible but they adore it — and will do absolutely anything for a piece. And at Christmas, they have their own stockings full of goodies.

I think some people secretly think I’m a bit mad. I had bunkbeds custom-made for Ella and Sam when they were younger — and subsequently had steps made so that Ella could easily reach the top bunk without having to jump up or down. They also have their own sofas in my lounge: they each have a two-seater Ikea sofa that matches my three-seater human one.

No matter how bad one’s day gets, a dog will always be there with a warm welcome, with no judgement... just pure love and adoration.”

Joumana Saoud

“Not all pet owners are pet parents. I have seen many in Dubai who called their pets ‘babies’ and later they left them behind [I am not referring to those who went through difficult circumstances and things got out of control]. A real pet parent will never leave their baby behind. The word ‘responsibility’ is the most important thing a pet parent should commit to: the responsibility they have towards them is for life, they have to provide them a healthy, safe and loving forever home.

It’s common to get pets to show them off in front of friends… or just for fun… people don’t see that these creatures have souls and they get attached to their humans. When one relocates to a different country and leaves their pet behind, some of them may find good homes but most of them end up in the wrong hands or on the streets.

My parents loved animals and they raised me in a house with cats and dogs… I came to Dubai in 2000 and lived without pets until 2009 — which is when I got my first kitten, Cookie. The moment Cookie entered my life, everything changed. Today, my husband and I have 10 cats, and they mean the world to us. My cats are my source of happiness and the only ones that can bring comfort to me when returning home after a long day at work.

Once, an ex-colleague had asked me ‘When will you throw these cats away and have a human baby?’. I was really hurt as not having human babies could be for different reasons — other than being a personal choice… In addition, there was the judgement that in order to have a baby I have to get rid of the cats — or the other way around! Whoever said if I ever have a human baby, I will throw my cats away? But the nicest compliment I received was being called ‘A Crazy Cat Person’! In 2014, I won Bin Kitty’s Crazy Cat Person of the year… that was a proud moment… I helped a lot of abandoned cats and kitties [get adopted] so I am happy to be called a Crazy Cat Person.”

Arijit Sen and Amrita Dhar

“A pet parent would typically take their own life decisions like one would when it came to human children — typically, decisions pertaining to comfort, health, mental and physical wellness and love. The most common characteristic about pet parents is that every conversation always veers towards their pets!

We have two babies: an eight-and-a-half-year-old Black Lab called Snowy and a four-and-a-half-year-old Golden Retriever named Fapiao… One Indian, and the other of Chinese origin and hence nicknamed a Chitriever. Neither will score the highest marks in an IQ test… however, Snowy has a natural charm that gets people attracted to him… Fapiao lacks that but makes up by pretending to be a tiny lapdog, forcing affection from people known — and random.

We got married because both of us wanted to have a K9 child named Snowy. We always knew it would be a full-time occupation. Some elements we had an idea about but a lot we had to learn and adapt, specifically since both boys are very different in temperament. What we had not factored in was that health management for dogs is both complicated and expensive globally.

It is very expensive to move dogs, as we have learnt after moving ours across three countries — the most recent being our relocation from Dubai to Shanghai. It is also very complicated from a regulatory point of view, with some countries having very stringent entry/exit protocols. So, while it would be easy to pass a value judgement on cases where the pet is left behind, we have learnt not to.

Yes, we do have a network of pet parents, but not just for play dates and social events but as a support network in case of

emergencies… something we learnt during the Shanghai lockdown is that these networks actively enable you to keep your pets safe and happy.

People sometimes brand us as being wasteful and seeking compensation for not having human babies. But then it all seems alright when the whole extended family readily refers to the boys as their grandchildren/nephews/cousins.”

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