It' a dog's life alright – and at least some of humankind's best friends are having the time of their lives, being treated not just as family but royalty. So, if it's a birthday party for the lucky pooch and its friends, there is a range of gourmet bakeries to satisfy the most discerning palate. Planning a holiday and can't leave your dog alone at home? No need to fret, just check it into one of the many pet resorts around the city so it can have a vacation as well. And if your pooch is in need of an oil massage or a haircut, well, there are salons and spas for that too!
There was a time when dog owners in Mumbai had to hunt for good food to feed their pets. But the scene has changed drastically over the past decade, and the city's pampered pooches are now spoilt for choice. Dog food is no longer limited to just the bag of Pedigree, with a number of gourmet bakeries and home-cooked food suppliers now catering to specific needs and tastes.
The Spoilt Brat Barkery in Nariman Point, run by Yadika Sharma, for instance, hopes to reach man's best friend's heart through its stomach. The menu includes stuff like cup cakes, cookies and pizzas, all creatively named — Apple Carrot Pup-cakes and Pup-eroni Pizzas being just two of them. Yadika has also introduced frozen delights like Nutty Carob Frozen Yoghurt and Doggie Daiquiri to her already extensive list.
And if you plan to celebrate your pet's birthday, there's a range of bark-day cakes, vegetarian and non-vegetarian, to pick from. Yadika uses only natural ingredients in her products, and all of it is healthy for dogs. Like The Spoilt Brat Barkery, other bakeries such as Gourmutt in Chembur and Waggy Bags Gourmet Dog Barkery in Juhu also cater to a dog's diet demands.
Natasha Chib, wife of chef and restaurateur Nikhil Chib, laughs and says they pamper their Rottweiler Wolfgang. "We recently had a party at home and ended up making mini burgers and a steak specially for him. He's really spoilt. His first birthday is coming up soon, in fact, and we might end up getting him a doggie cake too," she says.
Even vegan dogs have a bakery to go to. With more and more pet owners adopting veganism, it is only natural that their four-legged friends will follow in their footsteps. The Green Stove, started by Rithika Ramesh in 2010, is a blessing in disguise for such vegans.
"When I started The Green Stove, it was meant for humans. But a friend of mine had recently shifted her dog to a vegan diet. As there were no vegan treats for pets available in the market then, she asked me to make some for her pet. That's how it started out," says Rithika.
She adds that the doggie cakes she bakes are very different from what we would normally eat — they are free of oil and sugar. So what goes into these cakes? A lot of other healthy stuff. "I use wheat flour, apples bananas, sweet potato and other organic products. Fortunately for me, the dogs I cater to are not fussy eaters."
Rithika says that demand for vegan dog food has gone up but a few are still sceptical. "People are a little surprised when they find out that some pet parents put their dogs on a vegan diet. But they ask a lot of questions about veganism and often want to try it out," she adds.
And Homecare Dog Food and Harley's Corner will get hot meals for your dog to your doorstep if you're too busy to cook them yourself. The meals are cooked on a daily basis and are customised to suit the pet's requirements. Wasiff Khan, who runs Homecare Dog Food, boasts of a clientele of over 600 pooches, including celebrity canines belonging to the likes of Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan. "We provide the dogs with three meals a day, which are customised to ensure the dogs like what they're eating. If a dog owner requests vegetarian food and wants particular vegetables excluded from the meal, we can take care of that," says Wasiff.
While dog spas and salons have been around for a while, never have they enjoyed the kind of popularity they do today. Cookie Khanna, who runs Top Dog pet salon and spa near Kemps Corner, couldn't agree more. "Dog owners no longer see grooming as a luxury. Today, it is a necessity," says Cookie. India's first certified master groomer from the New York School of Dog Grooming, Cookie has been running Top Dog for the past seven years and offers a range of services including baths, blow dries, haircuts and hairstyling and even oil massages, apart from tick and flea control treatments. The store also sells clothing and shoes for dogs, in addition to other accessories, which are all imported from the US.
A lot of other pet salons around the city offer similar services. Tailwaggers in Bandra, Whiskers and Tails in Kandivli and Oh My Dog in King's Circle are among the better known ones. Tailwaggers, which is run by Gauri Apte and Urmila Dhabholkar, holds the distinction of being the first pet salon in India and has even found a mention in the Limca book of Records. While a doggie bath at Top Dog can set you back by Rs800—1,800, haircuts cost upwards of Rs1,000. What do the pooches like best? "The oil massages and skin scrubs," says Cookie, adding, "We also offer skin treatments for dogs, because a lot of them face issues with Mumbai's cloying heat."
Natasha says she takes Wolfgang to a professional groomer once a month, while he's bathed at home once a week by his loving owners, preceded by a lavish massage with eucalyptus oil.
While it is relatively easier to groom Rottweilers and other breeds with short fur coats, some require extensive grooming. Nazish Ahmed, the owner of 5-year-old groodle Mahiwal, says because their dog has long fur that is prone to entanglement, the fur needs to be brushed every single day. "Also, Mumbai's weather is not suitable for dogs like him, so I bathe him at home with cold water every 10 days, especially during summer. He absolutely enjoys the long showers," says Nazish about his pampered yet extremely friendly pooch, who is a cross between a golden retriever and a poodle. He adds that a trip to the groomers is slotted on the calendar once a month, where Mahiwal gets flea and tick treatments as well as very stylish haircuts — a lion cut and a sheep cut, among others — to set him apart from the other doggie friends.
But Nazish laments the lack of places where dogs can go swimming when the city's heat gets to them. "Dogs feel so relaxed and rested after a swim, and all the knots in their fur go away. It does wonders for them. I wish there were more clean beaches we could take our dogs to," he says. The well-groomed and polite Mahiwal recently won the Best Personality Award at Dog-A-Fair, a canine carnival held at Radio Club in Colaba.
With summer setting in, everyone is busy planning a vacation. Years ago, pet owners would stay home because they couldn't leave their dogs alone. But now, their pet can take a break too, thanks to pet 'resorts' having cropped up in the city's far-flung suburbs over the past few years. Angel's Pet Boarding in CBD Belapur offers boarding services for dogs and cats at Rs300 and above per day, depending on breed and requirement. They also have pick up and drop facilities, and AC facilities for the pooches. Pets Hotel near Yeoor Hills in Thane has a one-acre grass lawn which also doubles up as a play area for pets.
Tracy Henriques who, along with her husband Delano, runs Delriques Kennels in Bhayander, says, "We've made space for dogs in the 10,000 square foot-property on which we live. Most of the area is open garden space and the dogs are let out of their kennels four times a day to play. We also train dogs."
The dogs are also fed elaborate meals, again customised to suit their preferences. "They are given two meals a day, usually made up of chicken and rice. The vegetarian dogs are given rice, paneer, dal or curd depending on what's prepared that day. We also give them Pedigree dog food if requested," Tracy adds.
For those pet owners who plan to stay back, Shivani Mathur's Party Barky Hai (PBH) organises events for dogs and their owners. From doggie days out to weekend camps and birthday parties, PBH does it all, giving pooches the opportunity to make new friends. Shivani, a certified event manager from the London School of Events and has successfully completed a course in canine behaviour and training, says she started PBH in 2010 because of her own dog. "I saw that due to the lack of space in Mumbai, there is not much to do with our pets. So I put my event management skills to good use and began holding events for dogs and their owners."
PBH also takes credit for making the last two editions of the Bacardi NH7 Weekender pet friendly. But this was not an easy task, says Shivani. "The dogs had to go through an intense desensitisation programme for two months prior to the event so they could get used to the loud music at the venue. But the best part is that loud sounds don't faze them anymore," she adds.
While dog parties are all the rage, Nazish wonders why no one has organised a pet marathon yet. He says, "There are all sorts of marathons happening everywhere nowadays, so why not a marathon where you can run with your pets?" And his wish might very well become a possibility. Who knows, there may also be a Bark Music Festival or a Miss Dog World coming up next.