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‘Lonely’ Nairobi residents turn to pets for solace, prestige

An evening stroll down Kileleshwa, one of the upmarket suburbs in Nairobi, reveals a trend that is slowly gaining traction. In this posh neighbourhood, the number of residents taking evening walks while holding their dogs has been on the rise—proof that pet ownership is slowly turning into a status symbol in Kenya.

Sharon Momanyi, 33, attests to this phenomenon. Born and raised in this area, she says she has noticed an “immense growth” in the number of dogs taking walks in the rather quite neighbourhood.

“A decade ago, when I was still living with my parents, there were very few people who owned dogs here and the few who did had them solely for security purposes. You couldn’t find people buying dogs for the love of it or as a pet,” she says.

Momanyi says she spent an equivalent of $400 (Sh40,000) to acquire a puppy, named Fifi, that she says kills the boredom that comes with living alone.

Fifi has a whole room to himself, fully equipped with a bed, toys and a music system. Momanyi’s next-door neighbour, Pretty Kigwa, owns two puppies, Cross and Criss. Kigwa says she acquired the puppies after her relationship with her boyfriend ended and a miscarriage earlier this year.

“People might think I am crazy but I found my happy place with my two dogs who give me unrivalled love,” she says, adding; “There are no trust issues either.” “After going through a nasty breakup and losing my unborn child, I was really heart-broken.

In my search for healing, I came across a story of a woman in the US whose dog helped her get up from a similar situation,” she says. A financial analyst by profession, Kigwa says she cannot compare the money she spends on keeping the puppies with the joy she gets from them. Among the privileges that Criss and Cross enjoy is a spa day at a luxury pet care centre in Nairobi, Vip.

At Vip, puppies are treated to a grooming session which includes a bubble bath, nail clipping and filing, ear cleaning and hair removal, tear stain lightening, facial tidy-up, teeth brushing and mouth wash, anal gland expressing and ‘pawdicures’.

For George Ngengi, a businessman, his pet dog couldn’t come at a great time than when his wife of six years left him together with their son for the US without his knowledge. “I returned to an empty home one day and the cold days and nights became unbearable for me. I couldn’t think of anything else other than a dog,” Ngengi says.

“My dog has now become my best friend. We kill the evenings together for the last two years”. According to Borris Nyakundi, a veterinarian based in Nairobi, pet ownership has been on the rise, at least according to his growing list of clients. “I think the growing middle class in Kenya is behind the growing craze on pet ownership, which is good for people like me as my clinic has turned out to be a worth venture far from what I thought,” Nyakundi says.

Going by the many adverts on puppies on sale on social media platforms and sometimes on newspapers, it’s clear pet ownership is catching on among many Kenyans.

Grace Wairimu, a dog breeder, says business has been good for the last few years. “Even though most of the dogs I breed are for security purposes, we have recorded an increase in demand.

More Kenyans want to have guard dogs in their homes which is a good thing for us,” she says. According to Wairimu, most dog owners are not interested in just any kind of dog; they are demanding for exquisite breeds.

This is hardly surprising as sophisticated dog breeds are widely regarded as a status symbol in many parts of Africa, she says. There is a growing demand for imported pure breeds, especially the German shepherd, Boerboel, Rottweiler, Doberman, British Bulldog, Labrador and Bullmastiff, Wairimu says. These breeds don’t come cheap. The price of a Bullmastiff puppy, for example, starts from $1,000 (Sh100,000). —Xhinua

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