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Let’s Unpack That

I keep forgetting my dog’s birthday – could a luxury pet party make it up to him?

London is awash with spa days, birthday cakes and ‘pawsecco’ exclusively for your pets – following the lead of a boom in animal-friendly extravagance popularised on TikTok and Instagram. It’s made Charlotte Cripps wonder if she’s doing enough for her Golden Retriever, Muggles

Thursday 13 July 2023 06:30 BST
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‘Most people organise their dog parties themselves. However, for those who want a truly Instagrammable moment, that’s when you engage a planner for your pet’
‘Most people organise their dog parties themselves. However, for those who want a truly Instagrammable moment, that’s when you engage a planner for your pet’ (iStock)

Should I feel bad for forgetting my dog’s birthday? I know that Muggles, my Golden Retriever, is coming up to his ninth birthday later this month – that’s 63 in dog years – but I can’t remember the exact date. I think it’s 27 July, but it easily might not be. In all honesty, I’ve forgotten about celebrating it for the last few years. I haven’t even been getting him his favourite treat of an ostrich bone. Am I letting him down? Would I be a better pet owner if I treated him to occasional bursts of luxury treatment and fine dining?

At Love My Human Townhouse, a dog cafe attached to a grooming salon on London’s King’s Road, a mouth-watering “doggy menu” is on offer. Dishes costing from £2.80 to £7 include sea bass, sweet potato and french beans; beef wellington, French beans and pumpkin puree; and cod and sweet potato fish cakes. There are doggy drinks, too: a £3 “Townhouse PupCup Puppocino” consists of coconut cream and a cookie topping, along with a choice of goji berries or blueberry powder sprinkles. And if that’s not adequate, why not try the “Birthday Package”, or a £12 three-course dog’s dinner complete with serenading.

Jenny Matthews, the founder of Love My Human, tells me that dogs instinctively know when it’s their birthday. “When we bring out the cake to the group of doggy friends, it’s only the dog whose birthday it is that sits to attention,” she insists. “We often get asked to bake several cakes costing from £50 each, but pricing can go up when clients ask for a cake filled with chicken or minced beef so they can do a cake smash.” She adds: “Dogs can just dive in”.

Welcome to the surreal world of luxury pet parties, where a good brush or a squeaky toy just won’t do. The possibilities for pooch pampering are endless. There are the invitations that read “Let’s Pawty!”. The £3.99 bottles of Posh Pooch Pawsecco, a herbal infusion suitable for dogs and cats. All the bespoke birthday cakes on offer – I’ve seen one with a mincemeat centre that can have your dog’s name written on top of it in pup-friendly icing.

I could splash out on afternoon tea in the grandeur of Egerton House Hotel in Knightsbridge, where dogs could be served (for £30) “a pooch-pleasing selection of treats, including chicken liver meatloaf, homemade dog biscuits and a carrot cupcake”. To top it all off is the special “dog-tini” drink for “an extra-special experience”, served with doggy canapés.

The vibe is more low-key and cool at Westbourne Grove’s dimly lit grooming boutique and dog party venue Verve, which they’ve dubbed “the world’s first-ever dog bar”. A gigantic black poodle and an even bigger mastiff are snoring on the sparkly disco floor as I pop in for a look around. Dog parties start from £45 in the small area at the front of the venue (£15 per person minimum spend), to £9,000 for the whole place. They cater for red carpet events with “a costumed greeter and guest list person” if needed. The bar area includes an onyx counter, hanging glitter balls and giant bottles of wine, and can cost as much as £1,000 – though all of this seems more geared towards the human experience than the dogs. For a start, the stools are far too high for a dog to sit at the bar.

For less flashy clients, Verve recommends bringing your own dog cake to the party, using a dog cake mix they sell (£14.99) that is spread with dog-friendly peanut butter (£6.99) and sprinkled with dog treats. Things get even wilder from there – Verve sells a Swarovski dog collar at a cost of £1,200, and flouncy pet tutus from £45.

I just wanted to celebrate her. I went full-blown and people say, ‘Oh, you wasted money,’ but it’s like, ‘no’. I’m celebrating something that means the world to me

Comedian Gabriel Iglesias on Instagram

At The Mutz Nutz grooming salon, also in London’s Westbourne Grove – where I’m told “a baseline dog in Notting Hill is a Cockapoo, Cavappo and a Cavalier” – dogs (and cats) can luxuriate at its spa. “For a Spa Day Birthday (£95) we offer lots of WildWash treatments including a Deep Cleanse Facial scrub and a Pawdicure,” says The Mutz Nutz and Wildwash owner Jane Cooper. Bespoke cakes can be ordered in for the spa day, including a custom-made, two-tier, meat-free cake from £65. The Mutz Nutz also sells an array of gifts including birthday cake toys starting at £12.95, and a rather nice red birthday bandana (£9.95) that I’m now considering for Muggles.

If all of this sounds otherworldly, that’s sort of the point. Extravagant pet parties are massive on TikTok and Instagram, with videos often going viral showing owners going all out for their animals. One recent video, uploaded by the user @hoobaloobalou, depicts a pregnant cat named Cleo licking milk out of a champagne glass surrounded by heaps of pink-wrapped gifts. The US comedian Gabriel Iglesias also went viral last year after throwing a $100,000 party – complete with 300 human guests and roughly 12 animals – for his dog Risa. “Party of the year, all for my little princess,” Iglesias captioned a post on Instagram. “Risa has given me so many years of happiness. I just wanted to celebrate her. I went full-blown and people say, ‘Oh, you wasted money,’ but it’s like, ‘no’. I’m celebrating something that means the world to me.”

The luxury events experts Dazzle & Fizz tell me that they often get asked to provide their services for dog parties. Their most expensive party cost £5,000 to put on, all for the eighth birthday of a Chihuahua called Oscar. It took place at the owner’s London home, with Dazzle & Fizz providing bespoke doggy cakes and cookies, personalised gift bags, bowls and organic food – as well as a “doggy sandpit” perfect for bone-digging. Eight dogs were invited.

“It’s not a trend that we see increasing,” the firm’s owner Charlotte Melia says. “Most people organise their dog parties themselves. However, for those who want a truly Instagrammable moment, that’s when you engage a planner for your pet.”

‘It’s become so easy to suffer from parental guilt with our dogs’ (iStock)

I do find it all a bit mad. Not even when I got pregnant after years of infertility did I celebrate in this kind of style. That’s not to say, though, that I haven’t had my pet party moments. Back in 2015 and before I had kids, I hosted a party for Muggles for his first birthday. Around 15 other “dog friends” arrived with a dog walker and were unloaded out of a van into my flat. It was carnage. To celebrate his big day, I bought special doggy cupcakes and tied a helium balloon to his pink collar – a friend threw in some duck chews. I pushed the boat out with the party bags, too, buying – albeit from Poundland – light-up bouncy balls and some cuddly toys. I’ve also been known to splash out on Muggles in the past. I’ve bought him dog advent calendars for Christmas containing dog-friendly treats, and I’ve left him a few presents under the tree – such as a squeaky pheasant. I may not be the type to buy him a £600 Dior pet harness, but it doesn’t mean I don’t adore him.

Then it all stopped, though – I had kids. Now I’m faced with people spending more on their dog’s birthdays than I do on my kids’ parties. And that’s why it’s become so easy to suffer from parental guilt with our dogs.

Muggles deserves to have his birthday acknowledged, but if I took my matted dog to a grooming salon in Notting Hill I would feel shame – like I was bringing in a windswept sheep. I’m not prepared to host a big guest list soiree either. Instead, I’ve decided that this year I’ll host a small gathering with his two best mates Shanti and Picasso, and take him swimming at Hampstead Heath dog pond. It’s not glamorous but it’s his idea of heaven – especially if I throw in a stick. He’ll be so happy he won’t even realise I didn’t host a big blowout. After all, he’s a dog – not a party animal.

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