Long seen as unwanted fleabags wandering the streets in search of food, dogs in Oman have become pampered pets thanks to changing attitudes among Muslims towards canine companions.
They may be man’s best friend to millions around the globe, but in the Islamic world dogs have traditionally been shunned because tradition holds that they are unclean.
In a suburb of Muscat, a 35-room “hotel” with a difference stands as a testament to the turnaround in pooch fortunes in the Gulf sultanate.
The two-storey building boasts two small swimming pools, a veterinary clinic, grooming salons, a dressing room and two dog trainers.
Three of the bedrooms at the PetCare Veterinary Centre are reserved for canine couples only.
While it is by no means the first of its kind in the world, in Oman it is still something of a rarity.
Its creator is Adel al-Jamri, who has travelled the globe participating in dog-breeding contests as far afield as Asia and Europe since the 1990s.
Omanis and foreign residents alike bring their dogs to stay for between one night and three months, particularly when they go on holiday.
Jamri said he was encouraged by “a change of mentality” in Oman that has seen a growing interest in dogs for companionship, hunting or to enter into competitions and animal shows.
“The dog is no longer an unclean animal,” he said.
And their owners “entrust them to us, especially when they go on vacations”.
Muslim tradition holds that dogs’ saliva is unclean and could spread disease.
Islam “prohibits the ownership of dogs, apart from those used for guarding or hunting,” said Sheikh Ahmed Khashba, the imam of a mosque in the Omani capital.
While breeding camels and horses is an ancient tradition in Oman and neighbouring Gulf countries, “raising dogs and cats is new for us in the sultanate,” said Salem al-Ghanimi, a customer at a pet store in Muscat.
He puts it down to “the tendency of some people to imitate foreigners”.
However, many families still avoid keeping dogs because they believe it goes against the teachings of Islam, said Ghanimi.
Store manager Mohammed Wassim says younger generations are at the forefront of the new trend of keeping pets.
– ‘More faithful than humans’ –
At the PetCare Veterinary Centre, four-legged guests undergo daily 15-minute exercise sessions.
They range from small chihuahuas to German shepherds and golden retrievers.
Hotel rules are strict: a dog cannot check in without a veterinary certificate showing it has had the necessary vaccinations.
But with an occupancy rate that often exceeds 95 percent, there is no shortage of guests, said its chief administrator Azzan al-Zadlaji.
The cost is eight rials ($21) a day for full board, or less if the owner provides the food. Smaller puppies qualify for a discount.
The parents of 15-year-old student Sultan al-Rawahi brought their son’s Dutch shepherd for one month to help him to concentrate on his exams.
Sultan Yahia, another Omani, brought his pitbull for training in preparation for competitions. He also has a German shepherd at home.
With purebred dogs growing in popularity, the centre has become a meeting point for dog breeders and owners who hope to start Muscat’s first canine club.
In the meantime they hold a dog show every Friday in an Oman park.
And it is not just dogs that are pampered by Oman’s growing ranks of animal aficionados.
Lamia al-Bakri spends almost a fifth of her monthly salary on her cat.
But she says her furry friend is worth it, “especially these days with animals proving to be more faithful than some humans.”