Animal rescuers push for second innings
Not everyone has what it takes to care for abandoned pets, say welfare advocates around town - but everyone can help the larger community.
If there's one thing animal rescuers across the UAE are on the same page about, it's that education efforts - where pets and strays are concerned - could really use some ramping up in the UAE.
Emirati Sarah Al Zaaki co-founded her own animal welfare organisation nearly six years ago, together with other passionate citizens, when she was still a student. Since the start of this year, Protection of Animal Rights Association (PARA) has rehomed "not less than 1,800 cats and dogs", according to the youngster, who's looking to graduate from university this year.
In an attempt to understand what was really going on, the organisation has been attempting to properly document every such animal. "We wanted to know why they were entering the system, so that we could try and come up with a solution," she explains. "Was it because people were leaving the country, couldn't keep up with the costs, didn't have the education needed to care for one.?"
They soon discovered that owners surrendering their pets was one key reason. "The main reason people are surrendering animals is due to the exorbitant relocation costs," says Sarah. "Take relocating to Australia, for instance, which can cost you Dh22,000 per dog. You can see why a lot of families can't afford that - especially now, with the pandemic."
But surrenders aren't always due to the transient nature of the country's population. Owner of Paw Pals Kate Lindley has been involved in animal rescue in the UAE for about 10 years. "People get their pets as cute puppies but then realise they're a lot of work, that they need training, and that cute puppies grow into 40-kilo dogs." At the time of interview, Kate noted that she'd had five animals surrendered to her in the span of just 10 days.
"There's an illusion that you can always return animals when you're 'done' with them," says founder of non-profit 38smiles Kremena Ivanova. "People feel like if things don't go right, you can always hand your pets over to a rescue group. But those adopting pets need to consider all angles instead; they need to know that adoption usually involves a commitment for the next 15 years or so."
Need of the hour
This is where animal welfare advocates say more awareness must come in. "People don't always value animals as they should," Kate observes. "They see them as disposable and not truly a part of the family. I am seeing more and more attitudes change over the last few years, but more education is definitely the need of the hour."
The change in regional attitudes is one that Sarah happily attests to as well, considering that the general disinclination in the region towards pets - stemming from cultural and religious beliefs - is well-known. She believes the rates of Arabs adopting pets is increasing drastically now. "I can say that because we have a lot of Arabs adopting from us these days," she reveals. "As an Emirati organisation, a lot of people have been praising us for breaking stereotypes too."
One of the positives in recent years is the increase in number of organisations or initiatives being set up by animal lovers to tackle issues related to strays or abandoned pets. Kremena notes there weren't that many when she started nine years ago. "Now, there are a lot more. Unfortunately, the need too is higher."
Animal rescue organisations are typically run by volunteers operating on limited resources. As a result, Sarah feels the responsibility to educate must be shared. "Society must have better access to information on everything from the lack of pet insurance to what to do when you come across an animal in need to why it's important not to breed your pets," she says.
How the community can help
Not everyone is cut out for animal rescue seems to be the unanimous consensus among those in the field - but everyone can get on board and help. "There are levels of help," says Kate. You can share our posts on social media, donate towards the bills, help take an injured animal to a vet... It takes nothing to fill a bowl with water and place it outside your building for strays."
Kremena agrees, and recommends simply following the social media pages of rescue groups. "They're always asking for assistance. Sometimes, it's transport they need help with, other times, it's designing posters or building a website. Think outside the box: how can you use your skills to help?"
Of course, the best form of aid would be to foster or adopt a new four-legged friend. If you do, however, she has a request: "Don't approach rescue groups with requests for a fluffy Persian kitten that's not more than three months old. That's shopping, not adopting," she says. "Adoption is giving a second chance to an animal in need. It's an act of kindness." Focus on improving an animal's quality of life, she says.
It's a lot of hard - at times, heartbreaking - work. But, as Kate notes, it's massively fulfilling too. "When you have an animal come to you in a poor condition, and you rehome them, then get a picture from the new family of it living its best life, that's the best feeling in the world. That's what keeps you going."