What can you do to stop the suffering of animals here?

Our abandoned animal population is out of control. Here’s why and how your action is needed in Abu Dhabi

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It was English philosopher Jeremy Bentham way back in 1789 who said it best when it comes to animal welfare: “The question is not can they reason nor can they talk, but can they suffer?” Yet in our corner of the world, thousands are suffering.

Every day in the capital, animals are being born, run over, infected with disease, thrown from moving vehicles, poisoned, trapped, burned, hoarded in unlicenced pet shops, mistreated, abandoned and left to die – and that’s because of us humans.

It’s something Dr Susan Aylott from community group Animal Welfare Abu Dhabi (AWAD) deals with every day. Rescuing animals, setting up safe feeding stations and neutering local strays and ferals is all part of what she and many other animal welfare volunteers do to help.

“Pick a number,” she sighs, when we ask how many animals are on the streets. “The population of cats on Lulu Island alone increased by 344 percent before we stepped in a year ago to sterilise them. If you extrapolate that to the whole [of Abu Dhabi], who knows?”

But here’s the positive news: If we all pitch in and give it some time, the situation might just be reversible – and all it takes is you.

Learning lessons

“The problem is terrible all over the country, and no long-term solutions have been implemented,” says Evelyn Priess, welfare group manager at Emirates Animal Welfare Society (EAWS).

The group was the first legally-registered animal welfare group in the UAE, and represents an important step forward in the fight for the rights of creatures great and small.

“The turnover of expats here is a huge part of this problem,” Evelyn adds. “This country is a young country, and that means it needs time to get things in place. But now is the time to tackle those problems at the bottom and animal welfare is one of those problems.”

But, says Evelyn, it’s awareness that’s the key issue with many people considering strays and ferals as disease-laden pests that pose a danger to our health. On that note, we think it’s high time to dispel a few myths.

“A cat living as a pet in your house might live up to 20 years, but outside it’s six to eight years, best-case scenario,” she stresses. “A dog might live 13 to 16 years in a home, and outside it won’t even see eight – that’s due to the hard life they have. These stray animals are not dying easily, they die a cruel and slow death.

“Many people don’t understand that we’re not taking your money and [using it] just to feed a cat,” Evelyn adds. “We use that money to help people to learn how to deal with these problems, to help get procedures in place, to help get animals off the streets. We need to educate and create awareness that even if you don’t like an animal, you don’t need to hurt it. To educate and raise awareness – that costs money.”

Dr Susan agrees: “We need to deal with the source and not the symptoms of the problem. It’s the only thing that will stop the population growth. We need to show people that this is [the animals’] home too.”

With populations of strays continuing to grow, Dr Susan firmly believes that a trap-neuter-release (TNR) programme is the answer – and that euthanasia or simply relocating the animals is not.

Established in the 1950s and 60s, TNR works on three basic principles to control stray populations: trapping the animal, spaying or neutering it and then returning it to the same spot it was picked up from to live out its life in a stable colony – a group of stray and feral animals – until a natural death.

Why does this work? Because left to her own devices, one unspayed female cat can have up to eight kittens, three times a year. That’s a potential 24 extra cats, who, if they breed, could create 500 more.

In short: TNR prevents more animals being born to a life of suffering.

“People think that relocating the animals is the answer – that’s not acceptable,” Susan contends. “You get a vacuum effect and more animals move in. The difference is, these ones are unsterilised and unhealthy.

“If we can just get to grips with the sterilisation, we will no longer see injured, sick or run-over animals in the street. We need a mass approach.”

Community activism

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That mass approach involves you, whether you donate money to registered charities, offer food for stray colonies or get involved with a TNR programme. Animal rescue organisations up and down the country are sorely in need of volunteers, and the community at large, to rally in support.

“I spoke to a new volunteer recently,” reflects Dr Susan. “She said she wanted to help, but she couldn’t do it on her own; she needed support. That’s exactly what we’re offering. She found a way to help that was empowering to her.

“Volunteers are everything we do,” she adds. “These people are vital, and we would not be able to run if not for them.”

Forming a web of volunteers all over the country is something that Evelyn is also passionate about: “We have this network of groups all over the UAE. If one of our volunteers struggles, we have dozens more that can rush to help.

“This is how it should be,” she notes. “It should be a network. A rescue group cannot be an island; nobody can bear all these costs themselves.”

With so many animals in dire circumstances, as a volunteer you may feel fear or sadness. That’s completely natural, but remember that action is better than reaction, says Evelyn.

“You can’t help if you’re heartbroken,” she advises. “The animal doesn’t need your emotions, it needs your help. If you see a suffering animal, you need to stay focused, neutral and you need to find the best solution for this animal here and right now.”

With a grassroots culture developing in Abu Dhabi, it’s time for us to step up and do our part – you could be the difference between life and death for an animal.

“I believe that all of us have a responsibility to help the animals and each other,” Dr Susan says. “Our volunteer culture makes for a nice community. Passion for animals, and a desire to change things as well as a love for the UAE – all these contribute to making the community a better place.

“You don’t have to rescue animals if you’re not able to,” she adds. “You can join a feeding group, donate food or lend your time – there is space for everyone to help. We want to empower people to help themselves. If we can harness the power of helping, then we
can make a huge difference.”

How you can help

  • Food: With groups such as AWAD running feeding stations around the capital, one way you can help is by donating bags of food to animal rescue groups to feed the thousands
    of animals in need.
  • Money: You can donate to registered government organisations such as EAWS
    using the details on their website. You can also donate towards vet bills, funding
    vital sterilisation and animal care for many organisations.
  • Time: Whether it’s cleaning up trash, monitoring a feeding station or collecting a male street cat to be neutered, if you have
    time to spare, lend a hand.
  • Foster: Cases of abandoned animals are increasing and many don’t have the skills to survive. Fostering provides a safe and temporary space for a sick or injured animal to rehabilitate. All you need to do is provide food and love.
  • Skills: Volunteer veterinarians and vet nurses are needed to tackle the rising numbers of animals that need to be neutered.
  • Business: Animal welfare can become part of a corporate responsibility programme with help from groups like AWAD, with feeding stations and a TNR scheme.

Who you can contact

WORDS Camille Hogg

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