Martina Hakim came home one day to find a wooden cargo box on her doorstep. There was an abandoned cat inside. “When I approached, the cat did a runner,” the animal welfare charity volunteer tells Time Out Abu Dhabi. “It took three days to find and catch it, because it was so scared.” Once she managed to catch the animal, she took it to the vet, where they were able to locate the owner, who said he left his pet with a friend to look after.
Unfortunately, this kind of event is not uncommon in the UAE, Hakim explains. Since 2010, she has worked with the volunteer-led animal welfare charity Feline Friends Abu Dhabi, founded by a British expat back in 1991. “In the past, we have rescued between 25 and 30 cats per month – some were injured, some needed TNR [Trap-Neuter-Release] and some were dumped cats that needed a foster home. On average, we adopt 150 cats per year.
“We always made a point of only taking and keeping cats that really need our help. If it’s a street cat that’s healthy and clipped, then we leave it. But long-haired, fluffy cats have no chance of surviving in the heat of summer. They also don’t have the personality to stand up against vicious street cats in dumpsters. At the end of the day, a happy, sweet cat is better than a feral street cat.”
Sadly, however, due to a lack of funding and volunteers, Feline Friends Abu Dhabi has closed down. But their work only represents a tiny portion of what Hakim describes as a big problem. “The stray cat population has gotten worse,” she admits. She says some people are happy to leave their unwanted pets on the street or on the doorsteps of the city's veterinary hospitals and volunteers.
She is calling on people to take a stray to the vet when it’s needed, to be spayed or neutered – the only safe and humane way to curb the overpopulation of stray cats.
Yet Hakim says there are a few organisations in the capital doing a great job, particularly the Emirates Animal Welfare Society (EAWS).
As the UAE’s only officially registered animal welfare association, the EAWS team partners with ministries and authorities to help bring animal abusers to justice. They also report illegal traders, create more awareness about animal welfare and rights, as well as provide support to residents, set up volunteer and foster networks, and aid the authorities with its nationwide TNR programme.
Another company looking to help through TNR, by offering charities and individuals heavily discounted fees, is the Australian Veterinary Hospital (AVH), where relocation manager Naomi Woodruffe has worked for the past five years. She says due to the lack of animal welfare charities, there is more responsibility on individuals to do their part. She says it’s not enough to send a picture of the abandoned critters to a charity and expect someone else to take care of it.
“There are more dumped pets every year,” she tells us. “At AVH, we have an adoption programme – most of our animals are dumped; they come in for boarding or grooming and are never picked up.”
She says a lot of this has to do with a lack of awareness around how much pets cost, but also where to get the animal from initially.
“People need to be educated to stop buying from the pet stores as often they end up coming in sick.”
When the animals do get ill, pet owners are not prepared for the associated costs, but with so many pets just waiting to be adopted, there’s no need to shop, but to adopt instead.
Another setback Woodruffe finds is when expats need to move away from Abu Dhabi.
“A lot of people don’t have any idea of the costs and the time constraints involved. For Australia, for example, you need to plan at least six months in advance. We also try to make sure people know to start saving as soon as they get that pet, as there are a lot of people who don’t.”
There’s no official figure on the amount of stray cats out there, but there is definitely room for more people to try and help out.
Preparing to adopt
Consider these points carefully if you’re thinking of taking home a pet of your own*…
● It is a lifetime commitment and you should rather wait and think twice, to make sure this is definitely what you want. Pets live a long time. For dogs, this means at least ten to 15 years, depending on size, and cats live at least 12 to 18 years, sometimes even longer.
● Pets come with costs, be it adoption fees, basic equipment, registration, annual vaccinations, unexpected medical costs, food and accessories. You have to be ready to bear those costs and, depending on the health of your pet, these sums can pile up.
● Once you’re clear you can bear the costs, then make sure you can also afford the time and love your new family member deserves. Be willing to spend more time in your home, since your new pet needs you there.
*Source: Emirates Animal Welfare Society, eawsuae.com
Veterinary clinics in Abu Dhabi
American Veterinary Clinic
A spacious and friendly spot with services covering medical and surgical procedures as well as grooming and relocation, plus the clinic also has a cattery and kennels.
Al Falah 9th Street, Khalidiya, www.americanvet.ae (02 665 5044).
Canadian Veterinary Clinic
Made up of a team of qualified vets and passionate animal-lovers, the Canadian Veterinary Clinic offers everything from general check-ups and vaccinations to micro-chipping and travel certifications, as well as dental, neutering and spaying services.
Abu Dhabi Port, www.canadianvc.com (02 6777 631).
German Veterinary Clinic
Founded in 2008 by Dr Katrin Jahn, the German Veterinary Clinic offers medical and surgical services, as well as boarding, grooming, home visits, pet food and merchandise, health care plans and relocation.
Khalifa City A, www.germanvet.ae (02 556 2036).
The British Veterinary Centre
The vets across the two branches of The British Veterinary Centre are all members of the UK’s Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, so you can rely on their skills and ethics. They each offer medical and surgical services, grooming, relocation and 24/7 care for hospitalised animals.
Khaleej Al Arabi St (02 664 0085) and Khalifa City A (02 550 4111), www.britvet.com.
Trap, Neuter, Release
Animal-lover Yasmeen El Mallah explains what TNR actually is…
The only method that has proven to be humane in controlling cat overpopulation is Trap-Neuter Release (TNR). This is a procedure implemented in the UAE that focuses on the population stability of feral cats. The procedure involves spaying or neutering street cats and clipping their ears to mark them sterilised.
These operations ensure the safety of street cats, while preventing it from spiraling out of control.
One clinic that does a monthly TNR programme in Abu Dhabi, and offers reduced prices, is the Australian Veterinary Hospital (AVH). Dr Fadi Daoud, managing director and head vet at the clinic, says: “We have a responsibility towards our society to stop this overpopulation and so our monthly TNR days help do just that.
We ensure the street cats are taken care of.
“Since we started our TNR programme in 2012, we’ve helped thousands of cats, and the numbers keep growing every month.”
The clinic, which is based in Khalifa City A, has opened a new branch in Reem Island, and the team is aiming to double the number of felines they help on a monthly basis.
The entire procedure takes just under five minutes for male cats and a maximum of 20 minutes for females. Cats can be dropped off the morning of their operation and collected later on in the evening.
Dr Fadi assures that although these cats are released back where they were picked up from, the cats are given pain medication right after surgery to ensure they are as comfortable as possible.
So, if you come across a stray cat that hasn’t already been clipped (you can spot these by the marking on their ear), you know where to take them…
Dhs80 (male), Dhs190 (female). Australian Veterinary Clinic, Khalifa City A (02 556 2990) and Al Reem Island (02 556 5675), www.australianvet.com.