KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 29 — Saudi Arabia has once again surprised the world as it continues to redefine the boundaries of public life in the kingdom.
After a series of extraordinary societal changes that included women driving, movie theatre opening as well as international stars Usher and Akon rapping to sold-out crowds, the kingdom now opens its first dog-friendly café to delight pet owners.
The café, The Barking Lot, opened its doors in June in the coastal city of Khobar, to delight animal lovers as there are very few places for the Saudis to take their pets outside the home.
Speaking to AFP, the café’s Kuwaiti owner Dalal Ahmed said she got the idea of a dog-friendly cafe during a previous visit to the kingdom.
“I came to Saudi Arabia for a visit with my dog, but wasn't allowed to walk on the beach with him.
“I was very sad and decided to help by opening a coffee shop for people who have dogs - and even for those who do not,” she said.
At The Barking Lot, the furry pals playfully romp around, while others sit on their owners' laps or wait patiently at the counter as their guardian's order drinks.
In one section, canines are treated to washes and blow dries as part of the grooming services offered.
"The idea of this cafe is very new," said Johara, a Saudi citizen.
"It's a distinct place where dogs can come and meet other dogs."
For Nawaf, also from Saudi Arabia, it was the first time visiting the cafe, which he described as "beautiful.”
"I came here to play with the dogs, which now have a cafe for themselves for the first time in Saudi Arabia," he said.
For the uninitiated, in Islam, dogs are considered unclean animals and are generally banned from public placed in Saudi Arabia.
The kingdom’s once-notorious religious police had banned the walking of pets in public.
However, after the ban was lifted, pets are becoming an increasingly common sight among the people.
The change has also encouraged many to operate animal shelters in several cities with adoption of strays gaining popularity.
The sweeping changes in the kingdom has been part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s “Vision 2030” strategic framework to reduce Saudi Arabia's dependence on oil, diversify its economy and develop public service sectors.