Mariam Ramy lives in Cairo and owns two dogs, an eleven-year-old Pekingese female and six-year-old-mixed-breed male.
Her dogs are counted among a total of 12,000 pets served by Vetwork, a three-year-old Egyptian start up that connects pet parents with vets to arrange home visits.
"For someone like myself who works long hours, it is good to have a service like Vetwork in Egypt," Ramy says.
"I always need an easy and quick way to find a trustworthy vet who can examine my pets at home, in their own territory. I also need someone to remind me of their vaccination dates and any pet care needs."
Vet Fady Azzounylaunched Vetwork in 2019 hoping to help his colleagues reach more customers, and to offer pet owners high-quality medical and grooming services at home.
"I am a vet myself and I have owned pets. I have experienced the pain felt by vets who could not reach new customers, and that felt by pet parents who struggle to find a good doctor. Even if they find one, they are not always sure of their competence. Vetwork connects service providers with pet parents after making sure of their competence," says Azzouny.
Since its launch the start up has received the backing of Egyptian and Saudi investors and has raised more than $1 million in funding.
The company also operates in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Through its application (app) and online platform, the company has secured a total of 400 veterinary service providers and has around 38,000 pets on its books in all three countries, according to Azzouny.
"We started at a good time," says Azzouny, the company's founder and CEO.
"We launched the business in 2019. In 2020, pet ownership began to rise because of COVID and the influence of what we watch online. In movies, you see protagonists owning pets. Also, online influencers always have pets and we get influenced by that."
Vetwork is one of several pet care related businesses that have recently begun to emerge in Egypt to cater to the needs of a growing pet population.
Besides veterinary businesses, stores selling mostly imported pet food and accessories, and offering grooming services are increasing in Cairo's more affluent neighborhoods.
There are no precise figure on the size of the pet population in Egypt.
But over the past ten years, pet dogs, formerly a rarity, have become a common sight in the city.
However, Pets International, a US-based magazine covering the pet industry around the globe reported in 2017 that Egypt was among the world's ten fastest growing markets.
Earlier this year, Statista, the Hamburg-based market data firm, forecasted that the pet food market was expected to grow at nearly 17 percent over the next five years.
Last year, the Ireland-based Research and Markets, another leading global market survey issued a report saying that the pet food industry in Egypt was worth $284.8 million in 2020 and was bound to grow as more well-off Egyptians are owning pets.
With two flagship stores in a wealthy Cairo suburb, Ziggy Pups stands as one of those recently launched pet care businesses.
"There is usually a balance in terms of the number of customers with dogs and those with cats. But lately, more dog owners come to us and this is normal because dogs usually need more care and cleaning. However, cats are clean by nature," says Shady Mohamed a salesman at Ziggy Pupps.
On a typical Saturday, the store swarms with customers who seek grooming and cleaning services for their dogs of various western breeds.
"The culture has changed in the Arab World," Azzouny says.
"In Egypt, people used to resent those who own dogs, because dogs were seen as unclean creatures. People would only tolerate watchdogs kept on rooftops or in backyards. Recently, some religious Fatwas saying that dogs were not unclean started to emerge. The same fatwas said that you are only required to clean containers where your dog eats, which is very logical. Even if a human being ate in a dish the same way a dog did, we would have to wash."
In mainstream Islam, dogs are seen as unclean animals that should not be owned for companionship.
Muslims are only allowed to own dogs for one of two specific purposes which are guarding or hunting.
However, some well-respected Egyptian religious scholars have recently come forward with fatwas (ruling on Islamic laws) challenging that understanding and arguing that dogs were not unclean and owning them would not undermine a Muslim's piety.
According to the Egyptian Kennel Association, the number of registered dog owners had jumped from 2000 in 2016 to over 860,000 in 2019.
For Mostafa Kamel al-Sayyid, a political science professor with Cairo University, pet ownership is one of many new consumption patterns adopted by newly affluent Egyptians.
"Pet ownership, especially pets of rare breeds, is a sign of a growing social segmentation. It reflects the desire of rich Egyptians to stress their social identity and stand out from the rest of the people by imitating certain western lifestyles that are not common in Egypt," al-Sayyid says.
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