Abu Dhabi // While many teenagers spend their free time roaming shopping malls, Taresh al Muhairbi prefers to roam the streets in search of animals in need, particularly abandoned kittens. "I can't just stand there and remain quiet when I see an animal suffering and in need," he said. Volunteering after school at the British Veterinary Centre (BVC) in Abu Dhabi, the 16-year-old pupil hopes to become a veterinarian himself one day and open up his own clinic.
"My friends don't get it when they come to visit me here," he said. There are only two Emirati veterinarians in the country, one practising and one just graduated. Taresh hopes to become the third, and change people's views of animals, particularly those of his family. "My grandmother thinks it is a waste of time and disapproves of how I spend my free time," he said. "Most people don't understand why I do this as they think there is no prestige in saving and helping animals."
Besides his volunteer work, Taresh has already succeeded in closing two pet shops in Abu Dhabi as part of his mission to save abused animals. Pretending to be a customer, he notes violations in the shop. When he finds more than three infractions, he calls the municipality to take action. "Somebody has to do this," he said, "as animals can't speak for themselves." Taresh's work has also spread to his home. He has turned one of his family's villas into an animal sanctuary, with more than 15 cats, four dogs and an open garden for birds and any other animals that happen to cross his path.
Heather Jessop, who heads the volunteer programme at the British centre, is impressed with Taresh's devotion. "We never get local youth volunteering here. He is one of the first, and hopefully he will inspire more nationals to come here and give it a try." The centre, open since 1991, has been running volunteer programmes with British and American schools. As part of their coursework, students help for a week with the cleaning and grooming and otherwise taking care of the animals that either come for treatment or are rescued.
"We hope one day to get some of the national and Arabic schools interested in working with animals," Mrs Jessop said. Taresh has also been helpful in communicating with Arab and Emirati clients. "He is a true asset to us," she said. firstname.lastname@example.org