Driven by her passion for dogs, Heba Ahmed left behind years of experience in public relations and marketing and chose a career that would allow her to work with her canine friends.
She has now turned her home into a delivery “restaurant,” becoming the first venue in Egypt to offer fresh food for dogs delivered to clients’ doorsteps. Through this venture, which she named Dogs Meals, she aims not only to provide a service for dog owners, but also to spread a culture of embracing pets in Egypt.
“Dogs are silent souls. They can feel everything, they guard us, protect us and give us unconditional love. That’s why I chose to deal with them,” Ahmed told Al-Monitor.
In her house in Sheikh Zayed City, a suburb of Cairo, Ahmed has equipped her kitchen with two large deep freezers, different types of food, bags and disposable plates for packing — along with many flyers to promote her restaurant.
“Cooking and preparing dogs meals takes time and effort, and many people feel it is tiring. I thought to myself, ‘Why isn’t there a place that sells these meals and offers delivery service as well?’” said Ahmed, who started her project three years ago.
“The first thing I thought about was making menus and distributing them to neighbors to let them know about [my business]. And — day by day — my clients increased,” she explained.
Ahmed typically starts her day at 10 a.m., cooking the food for customers. Her meals incorporate a variety of ingredients, including beef, liver, rice, mixed vegetables and bone marrow. She offers fresh-cooked meals as well as raw meals that are easy for clients to cook at home.
“People who own dogs are very interested in their pets’ nutrition. A dog’s meal should include all elements essential for their nutrition. It should include protein, minerals and salts in [proper] portions,” said Ahmed, who keeps herself informed about dogs’ nutrition to be able to cook healthy meals.
After the government's decision last year to float the pound, which caused a dramatic decrease in the value of Egypt's currency relative to the US dollar, many imported products either disappeared or became very expensive — and one of those products was dry pet food. This prompted many dog owners searching for alternatives to resort to Ahmed, whose meals cost only 12 Egyptian pounds (about 66 cents). Meanwhile, in Egypt a 10-kilogram (22-pound) bag of dry dog food costs 350-500 Egyptian pounds (about $19-$27), depending on the quality and the brand.
“With only 500 Egyptian pounds, a client can feed his dog for a month [with Ahmed’s service], while dry food may cost him up to 1,500 pounds (about $82) per month, plus fresh food is healthier and safer for dogs,” Ahmed said.
Although some Egyptians with pets know how to properly take care of them, other owners describe pet food as a luxury and aren't concerned with ensuring their furry friends have a quality diet.
Statistics show that Egypt imported $52 million of pet food in the first four months of 2016, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, while 2015 statistics by the Ministry of Trade and Industry said that Egypt had imported $153 million of cat and dog food during 2014.
When she first started cooking for dogs, Ahmed faced some criticism from people who described her as weird.
"I only offer a service, if you don't want it, don't take it. I know that what I’m doing is essential for some people," she said.
Ahmed worked in public relations and marketing for 15 years, but always loved having dogs.
“I wish people would embrace pets. The state should provide all the dogs' requirements. There should be gardens for dogs to walk, places for them to play with all requirements such as bags for their poop, like in any other country,” she said.
While many nongovernmental organizations struggle every day to prevent animal abuse, still there are some people who commit violence against them with no reason.
"Nowadays, if a dog goes out into the streets, he will be treated very badly. Some people, especially children, will show violence toward him just because he can’t express his pain,” said Ahmed, who has two German shepherds.
Besides Dogs Meals, Ahmed also established Pet’s Land, a motel to host dogs, where she offers services such as adoption, medical care and training courses for dogs, among other services.
"Some dog owners aren't aware that they can train their dogs to be smart and honest guards. Dogs are very loyal and can understand you," she noted.
When her Pets Land motel became well known, she made partnerships with two other dog hostels — one in 6th of October City and one in Cairo.
"There are many dog owners [in Egypt], but there aren't good places and services for dogs here. That’s why I tried to solve this issue,” said Ahmed, whose dream is to have a restaurant chain for dogs in Egypt.
Although she is based in Sheikh Zayed City, her clients come from a variety of places, including 6th of October City, Al-Haram area of Cairo, Rehab city, New Cairo and Misr el-Gedida. Some come to her home to purchase the food, while others ask for delivery.
"I deliver the food myself. If it is a nearby place, I go to it. But if it is very far, I ask the client to meet at a certain point. But I also receive clients at my home," she said.
Reham Moawad, an engineer who works at the ministry of communications, said she has spent a lot of money on dry food for her dog and was glad to finally find a restaurant that offers fresh food for canines in Egypt.
“I had a dog for six years and I used to buy him dry food, which is very expensive and it is unhealthy as it increases salts in their bodies,” she told Al-Monitor.
“Also, now the dry food is not easily available and it became even more expensive due to the increase in the value of the dollar,” said Moawad, who lives in the Sheikh Zayed area.
Essam Abdel Rehim, a dog owner, said that dog food is something that should be available everywhere and should not be treated as a luxury item.
"Dog food has never been a luxury. It is essential for dog owners and, yes, we like to find a service that offers us food for our dogs with good quality, that is well-packaged and comes at an affordable price," Rehim said.