AMMAN, Jordan (AFP) — Just a few years ago it would have been unthinkable to see owners walking their dogs around the streets of Amman. Now pet hotels are sprouting up across Jordan.
Where strays were once mostly left to scavenge for food, Jordanians in a new trend in the Arab kingdom are increasingly willing to foot steep bills to care for beloved dogs and cats.
Despite the squeeze on their wallets in a country where the average monthly wage is just $600, Jordanians are forking out to pamper their pooches with accessories and top-notch care.
There has been a "remarkable" rise in the number of pet owners, said Marwan al-Haj Ali, who opened the first hotel and training centre for dogs in Jordan in 2018 called The Pet Zone.
"We came up with the idea after noticing the need," he said.
Apart from play and training areas, owners can indulge their favorite furballs with dog nail trimming for $14, hair clipping and bathing as well as a hair-dry to keep those pelts looking purr-fect.
Room and board costs three Jordanian dinars $4 a day, with anxious owners able to keep an eye on their pets via online cameras.
'Part of the family'
"Twenty years ago if you had told anyone that you were leaving your dog in a hotel, he or she would have definitely laughed at you," said Haj Ali, smiling as a worker behind him dried off a huge black German shepherd.
More and more Jordanians are also breeding dogs and cats, and owners now proudly stroll through the capital with their pets on a leash.
It's "not like before, it used to be embarrassing," said owner Alaa Kalemat.
The 29-year-old medical center worker considers her small, white chihuahua-terrier mix, Lucy, a member of the family, and price is no object when it comes to her care.
"I don't feel that the costs are important, compared to Lucy's importance," she said, during a routine check-up at the Vetzone pet health center.
But looking after their pets is a struggle for many people.
Unemployment in the resource-poor kingdom is at 19% and the poverty rate hovers at more than 15%, according to official figures.
"It is a burden on the monthly budget," acknowledged Sami George, a director at one of Amman's top hotels and owner of a grey French terrier.
"Everything is expensive in Jordan and that applies of course to pet food, accessories and health care," he said.
In recent years, anger at the rising costs of living and price hikes have spilled over into street protests.
The cash-strapped country is highly dependent on foreign aid and has grappled with trying to curb its debt that has risen to more than 96% of GDP.
Costly, new treatments
Despite taking a bite out of their wallets, Jordanians appear to prefer larger breeds, such as German shepherds, rottweilers and huskies.
And the puppies don't come cheap, with prices for the bigger breeds starting from around $140 and soaring to as much as $1,700 — not to mention the costs of routine medical care such as vaccines and neutering.
Alaa Shehadeh, director of Vetzone, checked his monitors as he and his colleagues examined Navy, a pit bull partially paralyzed due to a spinal disc problem.
"Medical care is very expensive because of the cost of the equipment used and it is still a new sector," he said.
His clinic has an intensive care unit and offers radiography, lung diagnostics, incubators and blood-testing in its laboratories. X-rays for example cost between $20 and $50.
One recent client from Salt, 20 miles northwest of Amman, "clearly had only a modest income, yet she chose to carry her pet... here for X-ray,” Shehadeh said.
Pensioner Rima Abu Zahra said she would do everything for her pets.
"It is like having an extra child, whatever the cost is, he or she is my responsibility," she said.
Facebook groups are springing up where owners share tips about adoptions and how to help strays. And dog licence regulations were amended in 2016 to take account of the new trend.
"More people are having pets, especially dogs, in recent years and so we need to regulate the issue to make sure that most pets are well taken care of," said Mervat Mhairat, from the Amman municipality.
© Agence France-Presse