Animal welfare organizations in the UAE are urging people to ‘adopt, not shop’ this Christmas, as they warn shelters are already at breaking point due to a rise in people abandoning pets as they struggle financially.
Shelters and charities across the country have reported that animals are being abandoned on a “daily basis” as people suffer from coronavirus-related financial difficulties.
Animal Action UAE’s Mel Stones said the group has been inundated with requests from social media since the height of the pandemic with many asking its volunteers to take on pets they can no longer care for.
While abandoned animals are a long-running issue in the UAE, pet advocacy groups that say the number in the country has increased significantly since the current economic downturn started because of the coronavirus.
With Christmas around the corner, she believes the situation is only likely to worsen and is reminding people to rescue – rather than buy – an animal, and only do so if they are ready for a 15-year commitment.
“COVID-19 has caused a lot of issues for rescuers and shelters,” said Stones. “We are being asked to take on hundreds of cats and many dogs and you can see the posts everywhere on Facebook.
“Usually that the person has lost their job and can’t afford to bring the cats which they had rescued some time ago from the streets or which they bred themselves.
“Rescuers can’t cope with the numbers nor the costs to get the majority vaccinated, neutered and health checked.
“The owners haven’t had the money to spend on their pets’ medical bills.
“This Christmas, the message is the same as always: ‘adopt, don’t shop’.”
A lifetime commitment
Stones sought to remind potential pet owners that the pet is a lifetime commitment.
“Also, now that it is a lifetime commitment of 15 years when you have a pet, and with the way the world is these days, to save ahead to take your pets with you as anyone could lose their job at any time.
“A lot of people seem to think they will be here forever and act surprised when they have been let go. “Everyone eventually leaves, willingly or not.
“Fostering can save lives and give you the opportunity of having a pet when you know you can’t really afford the vet bills or to take them home one day.
“This way you have the love of a cat or dog at home and at the same time you’re helping them find a forever home.”
Virus fears contributed to uptick in abandoned pets
Dr Susan Aylott, of UAE animal welfare action group Animalia, said there was an initial, unfounded, fear during the peak of the pandemic that animals could act as hosts of the virus; passing on the disease to humans.
While this theory has been widely debunked, she said, the financial fallout over the virus – with loss of jobs or reduced salaries – mean many pets continued to be abandoned.
“We had a dog dumped this morning and witnesses reported to us yesterday of two men dumping kittens in a cat carrier in Abu Dhabi.
“Six months ago, we had a particularly upsetting case of a cat being cellophaned in a litter tray and abandoned. Luckily the cat – now named George – has been rehomed, but it does highlight the problem.
“Every day we are see abandoned animals. A lot of people have lost their jobs. One of the issues is they cannot afford to take their pet with them when they leave their country after losing employment.
“It would be great to see some sort of initiative to help such people – such as airlines giving free or discounted cargo for pets in transport – to help such people not be separated from their family member – because that’s what pets are. A member of the family.”
Dr Aylott also agreed with the ‘adopt, not shop’ message this Christmas.
“A lot of people are still buying animals from places like Ukraine – despite the number of animals in need of a home here.
“The problem is everywhere.
“We also want to remind everyone that pets are not just pets or a commodity that you own. They are a family member and they have feelings and emotions too.”