As Kigali increasingly becomes home to a growing community of expatriates and Rwandan returnees, the capital has become a convergence of cultures and lifestyles.
One of these cultures and lifestyles is that of keeping dogs as pets has once again taken root here by both foreign families and Rwandans.
And as expected, dog lovers are splurging money on their pets creating demand for dog walkers, trainers, breeders and groomers, dog food and others dog accessories.
But this has not always been the case.
During the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, as Tutsis hid in the bush to escape Interahamwe killer militia, dogs were used by to sniff them out.
Also, genocide survivors saw macabre scenes of these rabid dogs eating human remains and terrorising both people and animals.
To avert a public health crisis, a decision was taken after the genocide to have all dogs shot on sight by the army and UNAMIR soldiers, an event so profound, it was used as a euphemistic title for the Hollywood movie, Shooting Dogs.
In the recent past however, Rwandans have reconnected with their canine friends.
Ineza Alidry Cloudstone, a Kigali-based dog walker and trainer since 2016, says the killing of dogs went on for many years, and that’s how the population of dogs in the country sharply declined.
Ineza, now a self-taught dog behaviourist and trainer affiliated to Pets Plus said, “street dogs saved my life, I hated school, and it is my interest in dogs that helped me not to resort to doing drugs or become a street kid.”
He says there has been a major shift in public attitude towards dogs. He remembers in 2013 people spitting on him, others throwing stones at him as he walked with his dogs. By 2019, he says attitudes had changed and people on the streets came to his defence when others taunted him for walking his dogs.
“A lot has changed as more people from dog-loving cultures and lifestyles came to Rwanda, many Rwandans have also started keeping dogs, but occasionally, I still get disapproving looks in public.”
Nsomire Gideon has been a dog walker for three years now. I met him on the Kabeza-Remera Road and he said he always walked dogs for free since he was young but someone offered him money to walk the two dogs he had with him.
“I was earning Rwf15,000 ($15) per dog in a month then, now prices have gone up, and I earn Rwf100,000 ($100) for walking two dogs a month.”
Ineza, who has been a professional dog walker since 2016 says the price for walking one dog is not fixed.
But it keeps increasing, that now some are paid Rwf50,000 ($50) while others earn as high as Rwf100,000 ($100).
Some people walk up to eight dogs at a go, although Ineza doesn’t recommend it.
“The biggest challenge dog walkers face is irresponsible dog owners who don’t train aggressive dogs that attack dog walkers and other dogs.’’ But also untrained dog walkers are also a risk when they cannot control the animal.