DUBAI // Tight rules on where and how dogs can be walked in the emirate have left few options for people who wish to let their pets run free.
That is changing, thanks to a joint project by a Saluki breeder and two pet lovers who have opened Dubai’s first outdoor park designed for dogs.
The site in Al Awir, backed by Dubai Municipality, is the only outdoor space where dogs can run without their leads in a safe environment.
Jan Al Mheiri, a Scot who has been in the UAE for more than 25 years, encouraged her Emirati husband to donate farmland near their home in Al Awir.
The Bark Park has been developed with irrigation and electricity and opened as an official dog-walking facility.
Mrs Al Mheiri, who owns two Salukis and a Golden Retriever, said it would encourage responsible dog ownership.
“We are a work in progress but we have very big plans for the future,” she said. “It is a traditional place but it has all the things that dogs need.
“The municipality has a thankless task with regards to animal welfare issues, but they have been very helpful and supportive. It would not have happened otherwise.”
In Dubai, dogs are banned from all beaches and public parks, and in most newer developments.
The Bark Park encourages owners to socialise and can be used for a fee that funds the project.
“We needed to have permission to have the dogs running free on the land and that took time,” Mrs Al Mheiri said.
“I had to provide compelling reasons why this was a good idea and helped with animal welfare issues. Attitudes towards dogs are changing here but it is a very slow process.”
Saturdays are reserved for Salukis, the traditional Bedouin dogs, which can run as fast as 70 kilometres per hour.
Hamad Al Ghanem, founder of the Salukis of Arabia Club, helped to develop the park project.
“We approached the landowner with the idea, as we were looking for somewhere to run the Salukis,” he said. “It was important that it was somewhere away from camel farms and safe for the dogs.
“We had to have the area checked to ensure that they can’t escape if they are running free. It needs more trees and shade to make it more like a park, but it has great potential.
“I have helped with ideas, as I know Salukis so well. This park is perfect for all dog lovers.”
Other plans include a barbecue area and a site office. Dogs which use the park must be vaccinated and microchipped, and nervous dogs should be muzzled as a precaution.
Children younger than 12 are not allowed in the park. There is an area reserved for smaller dogs.
Entry fees are Dh50 for the first dog, and Dh25 for a second and third.
A maximum of 20 dogs are allowed in the park at any time.
Anna Bensalah has been volunteering for the park project and promotes events such as the Saluki Fun Run, which she has been organising with Rooster Tail Sports and Entertainment.
“The Saluki Fun Run was popular, so we realised there was a demand for a more permanent outdoor park for dogs to enjoy,” she said.
“All dogs need to run free but Salukis in particular are bred to run free. They can run long distances, up to six kilometres. So for them to be healthy and happy, they have to run but they also need to be safe.”