Pools, play dates and luxury spas: Nurturing pup parenthood in Egypt

 

May 2024

The ancient Egyptians respected and venerated many animals; it is well-known that cats were believed to possess a certain divine energy. However, dogs were also highly revered as hunters, protectors, and companions. Nowadays, sadly, these once venerated animals are more commonly viewed by many segments of the population as dangerous and unclean. This is particularly true of dogs. Eastwind, an Egyptian company focused on all things canine, together with several animal welfare groups in Egypt, are helping create a tide of change by working to nurture a shift in societal attitudes towards animals. Their work seeks to encourage greater compassion, understanding, and family integration amongst dog and their ‘parents’.

“Happy and healthy dogs is always our top priority”, says Captain Mohammed from Eastwind.

The young dog barked anxiously as I entered his space; a small, shaded patch of concrete where he was chained to a gate outside a villa in a quiet, affluent neighborhood of Cairo. “He’s definitely an outdoor dog,” the woman told me as I greeted the nervous creature she needed to re-home. “Indoors, he’s destructive and chews furniture and anything he can find,” she added. Although he was in good physical condition – if not slightly overweight – his owners were visibly intimidated by the dog and he’d had limited interaction with people for some time, which clearly affected his emotional state.

The idea of my now hopelessly adored, pampered, and relatively well-trained (although characteristically stubborn) Beagle being kept outdoors is hard to imagine. My phone storage is almost filled to capacity with countless photos of him sprawled on the sofa, his head propped on a cushion, and fully embracing his new life as an indoor/outdoor dog (he has his own dog flap/VIP entrance to the house and spends his days as he chooses, whether it’s cuddling with me on the sofa enjoying endless belly rubs, or sunbathing in the garden).

I’ve always adored dogs, but my work and lifestyle prevented me from adopting one until my husband and I moved to our new home in Cairo in June 2022. With a garden and some space for a pup to run around in, and more importantly a permanent and stable home base, we entertained the idea of adopting a dog in the not-too-distant future.

As I was preparing to travel to Ukraine as a photojournalist in October 2022, I came across a Facebook post with a short video clip of a beautiful young Beagle who needed a loving forever home. The timing couldn’t have been worse, but my gut told me to go and meet him.

Inevitably, I fell in love instantly (I like to think it was mutual), and so the Beagle became a much-loved part of our family. Feisty, stocky and strong, he reminded us of the hobbits from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, so we decided to name him Frodo.

From day one, Frodo has been my shadow, faithfully following me wherever I go (until he picks up a scent and then all bets are off). Adopting him was one of the best decisions of my life.

Although utterly adorable, Beagles are known to be independent and stubborn dogs, and I could see why his previous owners were unable to handle him. I also quickly realized there may be some disparity between my idea of being a dog mum and the reality of what it entailed. We needed to learn how to speak ‘dog’ – or more specifically ‘beagle’ – with greater sophistication than simply smothering him with love and affection and bribing him with treats, a form of communication I’m proudly proficient in.

Taking him for walks, was, in the beginning, a test of physical endurance, strength and patience, that involved hanging on for dear life, while being dragged in all directions as he was led by his nose. We desperately needed some help and sought the highly recommended expertise of Eastwind, a full-service canine facility that offers everything from dog training to boarding, doggie daycare, grooming, luxury dog spas, socialization activities and much more.

For the next few weeks, while I was working in Ukraine documenting the work of volunteer medics who were treating and extracting casualties from clinics near the frontlines in Donetsk Oblast, Frodo was packed off to Eastwind’s boarding kennels to be socialized not only with other dogs but also with people, and to receive basic training.

Anxious about how he was getting on at the kennels, I was relieved to receive regular videos from Eastwind of Frodo’s training, and I could see that this was indeed a very special boarding/training facility.

Lined with beautifully manicured gardens surrounding a small lake with ducks and water fountains, the main Eastwind facility is a vibrant and spacious sanctuary amid the sprawling, bustling city of Cairo. From doggie swimming pools and supervised play areas to obstacle courses, spa treatments, physiotherapy, there’s even an air-conditioned room lined with plump dog beds and a TV screen, the facilities and services provided by Eastwind are state of the art.  I haven’t seen this amount of love and commitment towards dogs anywhere else in the world, and it’s a testament to the company’s love ethos and unrivaled attention to doggy detail.

Their services certainly go far beyond meeting the basic canine needs. It reminds me of a 5-star human holiday resort where one might enjoy a spiritual, invigorating retreat. The only thing missing is the cocktails…

“Our priority at Eastwind is making sure dogs are healthy and happy”, says Captain Mohammed, a member of Eastwind’s elite dog training team.

Despite the country’s ancient history of holding a deep respect for animals, in particular cats and dogs, modern day Egypt is not such a hospitable place for animals. Stray dogs are commonly feared or shunned, and pure-bred dogs bought at high prices are often in need of new homes. It seems new owners often not only underestimate the extent of the responsibility of meeting their dog’s needs but also lack the skills to do so.

With growing numbers of stray dogs on the streets of Cairo, animal rights organizations are working to raise awareness of animal welfare and advocating for the rights of stray animals, while encouraging compassion in the community towards all animals. Other organizations offer shelters for stray dogs that would otherwise be vulnerable to culling campaigns, providing veterinary care and rehabilitation to dogs that can then be adopted.

Beyond its extensive and luxurious facilities, Eastwind is also on a mission to help nurture a societal shift in attitudes towards dogs and pet ownership. Through its unique level of dog expertise, social activities and outreach programmes, Eastwind is promoting an attitude of parenthood rather than ownership. Their aim being to encourage and support the dog’s integration into family life. “What a dog needs most is a family,” says Captain Mohammed. “In the wild they live in family packs, so when you adopt a dog, you become its family.”

Pet parenthood in Egypt is a relatively new phenomenon – only in the past two decades has this attitude towards dogs started to emerge. “For many people, having pets as part of the family is a new culture,” says Captain Mohammed. Although dog companionship is still not as common as it is in other societies, Eastwind is working hard to promote this cultural development, both amongst dog parents and those hoping to adopt a dog, with a specific programme for children.

The ‘Kids & K9’ programme is designed to foster trust, compassion and a deep understanding of dogs amongst children as young as 5 years old. They are introduced to dogs who have specifically been trained to be calm and friendly with children. In a safe, fun, and relaxed environment, children are taught how to care for dogs, how to play with them, and how to understand and communicate with them. “We choose the dogs that love to play with the kids,” explains Captain Mohammed, “and we start to make a good communication between the kids and the dogs.”

Back in Ukraine, just a few weeks after becoming Frodo’s ‘mum’, I realized I’d also become that person who bores everyone around them with stories and photos of their dog, while blissfully lacking the self-awareness to discern if someone is genuinely interested or feigning it.

“Do you know why Beagles are so pretty?” an American volunteer medic working in Ukraine asked me. “Because otherwise no one would have them.” he joked, referring to their notoriously obstinate and incessantly active characters that make them a typically difficult breed to train. Browsing through photos of our objectively handsome Frodo, safe and content in his new home with his new family, brought me great comfort while I was working in Ukraine during what was one of the most challenging photography assignments of my career.

When we were reunited in our home in Cairo, Frodo was a transformed young dog – confident, lean, strong, with a glossy coat and readily responding to basic commands. I was over the moon. I couldn’t wait to take him for a walk and try out this new ‘language’ he’d learned. I quickly realized, however, that while he had mastered this new form of communication, I on the other hand, was lagging far behind.

Fortunately, the Eastwind training programme had just begun. The day after Frodo arrived home, Captain Mahmoud, a member of Eastwind’s team of professional dog trainers and Frodo’s new best friend, arrived at our home in Cairo to continue the training. From then on, however, the student was mostly me. Frodo enjoyed these sessions tremendously, and on one occasion when he noticed Captain Mahmoud through the window he launched off the sofa and ran at full speed into the garden, creating a cartoon-like dog shaped hole in the screen door he barely noticed he’d flown through.

Since then, we’ve been extremely fortunate to benefit from regular training and support from the staff at Eastwind, which has helped strengthen our understanding and ability to communicate with Frodo, and him with us, and allowed us to create what I believe is a wonderful, stimulating and happy life for our cherished pup.

A new addition to the family

In July 2023, I came across a Facebook post of another Beagle pup in terrible condition inside a small cage at a less than reputable pet shop, severely malnourished and in desperate need of a home. We had reason to believe he may have been stolen. Fortunately, a compassionate and generous Egyptian woman had bought him right there and then to save him from the cruel conditions he was living in. However, with two large dogs of her own she was unable to keep him long term.

We decided to take Frodo to meet the puppy, who was estimated to be around 5 months old at the time. Seeing how well the two beagles connected, and how happy Frodo was to have a companion, we knew instantly that Beagle number 2 would be coming home with us.

Logically, we named him Bilbo. We consider ourselves very lucky to be the parents of two of the most beautiful dogs in the world…

Once again, we employed Eastwind to help us integrate and acclimatize the two dogs in a calm and controlled way. Overexcited to have a friend/brother, Frodo’s energy was a little too much for Bilbo, who tired quickly due to being so malnourished. Like children heading off on a school trip, we packed the two dogs off to Eastwind, who masterfully managed their social integration, allowing Bilbo plenty of alone time to develop his strength in order to match Frodo’s energy.

After a week at the kennel, the pups came home with Bilbo healthier and happier, and the training was taken to the next level. By that point, taking Frodo for a walk was a pleasure, but walking two scent-driven beagles was a totally different ball game.

With the help of Captain Mohammed, as well as other members of Eastwind’s professional dog traning team, our beagle brothers have since learned to walk together off-leash, resisting the temptation to chase and traumatize cats, pursue scents to the other side of the city, or eat discarded tissue (Frodo’s favorite delicacy). They now understand that staying close means lots of good boy pats (and occasional bribery with treats). We, as dog parents, are a lot more aware of their needs and language, and have successfully averted the growing pains of damaged furniture and chewed up socks and carpets!

The bond between our two dogs is something very special and beyond what we could have wished for. They’re inseparable and Bilbo follows his big brother’s lead in everything. Despite his traumatic start in life, Bilbo is a characteristically happy, straightforward dog, whereas Frodo has a more layered personality with varied expressions and demands, and, as Captain Mohammed observed, “he has more questions about the world.”

As dog culture expands in Cairo, and hopefully across Egypt, centers like Eastwind may not be affordable for everyone, but they are pioneering a positive development in people’s attitudes towards dogs, helping to set wider standards and norms which encourage a healthier approach to dog parenthood and animal welfare in general. I think the ancient Egyptians would approve of the efforts of Eastwind in elevating dogs to their former stature and returning them to the rightful pedestal they once occupied.