ALKHOBAR: When clinic manager Ruba Al-Mandeel goes into work at her family-owned pet clinic, Pet Houses, in the Eastern Province, she never knows what animal she will find. Sometimes, a customer brings in their screeching monkey or meerkat, or even flying squirrel. Dogs of all sizes come in, as well as vivacious birds and shy rabbits, but above all, there are always cats.
After passing the grooming station on one side and the veterinarian offices on the other, she walks up the narrow stairs to a secluded part of the building, where about 52 individual segments house the cats staying at the pet hotel. It is her daily dose of happiness.
“The idea of the pet hotel came to be in 2019 after realizing that the people demanded this. Many pet owners wanted to travel — especially when the airport opened up after the coronavirus pandemic — and they wanted a safe place to take their pets that was also comfortable,” she told Arab News.
“Perhaps before, people used to leave their pets with relatives or friends, but this wasn’t always an available — or even wise option — because the culture of having a pet in homes is something that not every household in Saudi had. Also, contagious diseases might spread, so people wanted to keep their pet in a trusted space where medical facilities are available and give everyone peace of mind,” she said.
The business was started in 1985 by her late uncle, Rasheed Al-Mandeel, and is now managed by her brother. After each of the siblings graduated college, they joined the business in different capacities. Ruba grew up the only girl and the youngest of her family, surrounded by pets and a strong work ethic. As soon as she graduated from college in 2020, she joined the family business and immediately tried to find innovative and smart ways to connect with the customers.
What is unique about this cat hotel is that every cat is examined daily by a veterinarian on the premises. Each cat owner has to fill out a detailed form including information about contacts, preferences and health.
This form must be signed by the pet owner and then by the veterinarian, and copy placed on the box in which the cat stays.
Each box is cleaned daily and the litter scooped, the water dish filled and the food replenished. Each box has ventilation, and as cats are territorial, they keep them in their boxes unless the pet owner requests they be let out to play in the designated play area.
A vet comes by daily to examine each cat, and the sanitation team wear gloves at all times, monitoring for any changes in food habits or moods.
The average stay is about a week or so, but some leave their cats for months.
Owners are encouraged to bring an item from home to help the cat feel more at ease, like a blanket or favorite toy.
One such customer is Dammam resident Kamel Trabelsi from Tunisia. Since moving to the Kingdom eight years ago, Trabelsi has been a frequent Pet Houses customer, first with a previous pet and now with his one-year-old Ragdoll cat, Smocky. When he goes on trips, Trabelsi keeps Smocky at the hotel and enjoys the videos and photos the team sends him.
“We have come many, many times here to check on the pet for cleaning, nail cutting and also to follow-up on the vaccinations, and when we travel, we have to put him in the hotel. This pet hotel is really nice — very convenient for us,” Trabelsi told Arab News.
In May, a fire broke out in the Mall of Dhahran, which housed a busy Pet Houses store. The plumes of smoke continued for hours and the family — as well as the majority of customers — phoned the Civil Defense team asking for updates on the animal situation. Viral footage was shown of animals, including kittens, fish and rabbits, being evacuated. The frightened animals were quickly transported to the clinic and examined by the vets before being released to other stores.
Thankfully, all of the animals were deemed healthy. While the mall has gradually opened up in the months since the fire, the Pet Houses store is yet to reopen, awaiting the green light from the mall’s management. Across the street, the branch at Amwaj Mall remains fully operational.
Pet Houses has 11 branches spread across the Eastern Province, with a single branch in Riyadh. The clinic in Al-Rakah has five in-house veterinarians, while their online store is open 24 hours and ships anywhere in the Kingdom.