TGIFOOD

HAPPY BARKDAY

Cupcakes? So last year. Now pupcakes are keeping tails wagging

Pupcake anticipation at India’s barkday party. (Photo: Alexander Oelofse)

Birthdays at doggy daycare are marked by pupcakes for the pack. Remember when your parents sent you to play school with cupcakes for the class on your birthday? It’s like that, but with more peanut butter.

Cast your mind back to the early 2000s, when owning a dog meant scooping out a fistful of dry pellets twice a day, ensuring there was water in the bowl (most of the time) and occasionally taking your four-legged friend for a stroll.

If you were going away for a weekend, there were two options: either get a housesitter, who would leave mascara smudges on your pillow and smash your favourite china, or you could take your precious pup to a kennel on some godforsaken farm where they would enjoy a few days of concrete, barking and trauma.

Watch Bunny the ‘talking dog’ communicate with her owner.

How times have changed. Today’s dogs have their own clothing lines, hotels, daycares, communication pads, self-dispensing water systems and even their own Apple devices. Oh, and of course they have their own culinary industry with Michelin star masterpieces and organic-grass-fed-gluten-free-raw-vegan-paleo options that would have Gordon Ramsay sweating.

Beyond the taste factor, people are also learning that feeding plays a much more holistic role in a dog’s mental and emotional development. Katja Herr, the founder of Bow-Wow doggy daycare in Woodstock, Cape Town, says “enrichment feeding is huge these days”. 

“Owners and carers use tools like snuffle mats, hand-feeding, lick mats and even DIY boxes of kibble scattered in amongst cardboard recycling to feed their doggos,” says Katja. “Methods like this keep your dog busy for a long time and stimulate their brain while eating their daily meal. This sends out happy hormones and actually mentally tires them out. You know when you’ve got a dog that you can walk three times a day and they’re still bouncing off the walls? Well, it’s likely that what they actually need is mental stimulation, and feeding provides an awesome opportunity to create that.”

Today’s top dogs are eating better than many of us and there’s no finer illustration of the culinary canine phenomenon than the doggy barkday party.

My frequent and unique exposure to these food-filled events has been the result of two odd coincidences in my life. First, taking on Bow-Wow doggy daycare as a client within my digital marketing agency, and simultaneously moving into Mary Puppins doggy daycare in Vredehoek (yes, I live in a doggy daycare).

Many of these centres are embracing bizarre and classically millennial practices – think WeWork, but for dogs. My housemate and the founder of Mary Puppins, Ivana Egersdorfer, describes her journey founding an all-female doggy daycare in the new-age of canine caring: “It all started when I moved to CT with an engineering degree and I couldn’t find any engineering jobs and I was also terribly missing my dogs from home in Joburg. I started dog walking for a friend and when I realised that more people were interested, I created a website for dog walking. 

“Over the years the business grew and after having many dogs sleep over in my one-bedroom apartment (sometimes six at a time) I realised I needed a bigger space and Mary Puppins was born.”

Ivana Egersdorfer’s dog, Swirly, celebrates her barkday party at Mary Puppins with pupcakes and pink wings. (Photo: Kyle Koumbatis)

“When I started formalising the daycare I realised I wanted to provide a small, homely environment where dogs could feel easily relaxed and comfortable,” says Ivana. “Other daycares all seemed quite corporate and cold and I really wanted to be different. I also knew that I wanted to integrate mountain walks every day – because from my years of walking I knew how important it was for dogs to be outdoors and able to run around. After about a year, I realised I couldn’t do more than three walks a day and I started employing other women to walk for me. It felt really freeing for me to be able to walk on our beautiful mountain by myself with my pack and I wanted other women to experience that sense of power. We are now an exclusively female company and I love that.”

India, Katja Herr’s ‘daughter’, celebrates her barkday in style at Bow-Wow Pets. (Photo: Alexander Oelofse)

Bow-Wow Pets in Woodstock also takes a “natural” approach, setting itself apart from the pack with different zones for every dog, natural cleaning agents, CBD drops for anxiety, fruit and veg throughout the day and a panacea of other holistic healing and fashionable accessories.

In both of these daycares (a place where pups go to frolic among friends and receive cuddles while their owners work to support their lavish lifestyles), birthdays are marked by pupcakes for the class. Remember when your parents would send you to play school with cupcakes for the class on your birthday? It’s like that, but with more peanut butter.

‘It’s both fun and madness but that’s how we like it here at Mary Puppins School of Bitchcraft and Woofery,’ says Ivana Egersdorfer. (Photo: Kyle Koumbatis)

Both Bow-Wow and Mary Puppins recently celebrated barkdays within their respective “packs” accompanied by a lavish array of treats – a “barkday box” of pupcakes from Cape Town’s Pupcakes Dog Bakery, customised cookies from Pawsome Bites in KwaZulu-Natal and assorted snacks. The treats are made using dog-friendly ingredients like pumpkin, peanut butter, cinnamon, carrot and apple with a touch of flour (gluten-free options are available for those pooches with celiac sensitivities).

I spoke to Jemal Ryder, the founder of Pupcakes Dog Bakery, about how she started baking for dogs and the ingredients she uses. “I was always baking for my hubby, only to be told he is going to get fat if I keep making so many yummy treats. So, I decided to bake my new rescue doggy Lacey some cupcakes for her first birthday and they were a hit. After that, I spent months researching ingredients and vegetables and fruits, what’s good for dogs and what’s not good for dogs. I decided on a few items and set to work. I wanted my goodies to be different from traditional meat-centric treats, so my primary recipe for pupcakes includes carrot, pumpkin, oats, cinnamon and homemade unsweetened applesauce. Dogs seem to love these ingredients and they’re also super healthy. For a little je ne se quoi I fill my pupcakes with a little extra homemade applesauce (like an eclair).”

The dogs go mad for these multicoloured morsels which are accompanied by gifts galore – from specially curated parcels of goods from The Dog Box and designer collars from Chommies to hand-sewn plush toys from Fugly’s.

India-staffie, the queen bee of Bow-Wow and Katja’s proud daughter, was spoiled with boxes and boxes of specially curated gifts, a mountain of treats. One gift is a multicoloured mix of hand-sculpted and piped dog cookies from Pawsome Bites. “I love designing treats that aren’t just gobbled up by the pupsters, but are a little fun for the pawents too! They are little pieces of art, a talking point that make people go ‘awhh’ or have a giggle at,” says Michelle Rolston, the baker behind Pawsome Bites.

And the atmosphere? “It’s vibrant and fun. The smiles are even bigger and better and if we sing the birthday song to a dog they sort of feel super special. It is very cool and we feel that they get it’s a special occasion as we make a huge fuss out of it,” says Katja.

Holly Harington and Ivana Egersdorfer hand out pupcakes at a Mary Puppins barkday party. (Photo: Kyle Koumbatis)

Ivana has one word to describe a pupcake day. “Chaotic. I’d like to say it’s wonderful, but really it’s chaos. The focus is definitely on the pupcakes so as long as you’ve got them out of reach so that you can give each dog their cake, we survive. It’s both fun and madness but that’s how we like it here at Mary Puppins School of Bitchcraft and Woofery.”

One gulp and it’s gone. (Photo: Kyle Koumbatis)

The effort and attention to detail at these canine celebrations would startle even the most seasoned event planner and it’s shocking, but also heartwarming, to see the level of love and care owners and carers are showing their pets in the 21st century.

Apart from these special events, an average day of feeding at doggy daycare is equally adorable and time intensive. “Most dogs are super spoiled with a packed breakfast/lunch or even dinner boxes if they leave late,” says Katja. “Snacks are sent in their little backpack to ensure the doggos do not get hungry. We have many environmentally friendly owners who package food and snacks in glass jars. We also regularly treat them to fresh apples, carrots and other fruit and vegetables.

“People love to know that their dogs are eating healthily. Many dogs eat better than their humans. Mine definitely do – getting first-class dog food and chicken breast, fresh fruit and healthy treats throughout the day.” 

I’m excited about the next cake-filled extravaganza. If I’m lucky the owners might throw a human cupcake my way too. DM/TGIFood

Bow-Wow Pets, 21 Barron Street, Woodstock. 

Mary Puppins Cape Town, 16 Ludlow Road, Vredehoek. 

This writer supports Soil For Life, committed to bridging the food poverty gap by training home food gardeners in underprivileged areas. Please support them here.

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