AL AIN // More animal shelters, an adoption programme for feral cats and dogs and plans for a new animal welfare law were among sweeping new measures discussed yesterday at the first UAE Animal Welfare Conference.
The conference, at the female campus of UAE University (UAEU), gathered representatives from The Centre of Waste Management - Abu Dhabi (CWM), the Executive Council of Abu Dhabi and UAEU's agricultural and law faculties, students and members of the public.
In early January the Executive Council instituted a no-kill policy, announced in 2010, ending a long-term practice that saw healthy stray cats and dogs euthanised within hours of being trapped. Although still in the planning stages, the new protection measures back up that change in attitude.
"From this day forward we are working on awareness programs and laws to protect animals," said Ghada Bahsoun, an Executive Council advisor and public administrator. "The Abu Dhabi government recognises that there is a new balance in urban and rural landscape of our times, one that includes feral cats and dogs."
Plans are to build a new animal shelter in the Western Region, as well as make upgrades to the shelter in Al Ain and expand facilities at the Falcon Hospital. The centre, owned by the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi, is the only one in the emirate authorised to neuter street cats and dogs - and is currently capable of processing about 50 cats each day. The expansion, due for completion next autumn, will be able to process 300 cats a day.
Since the no-kill order was put into effect, the CWM has also been trapping and neutering or spaying stray dogs and cats. Cats that are healthy are being been released, while dogs are being held at the Falcon Hospital and put up for adoption.
In addition to protecting animals, the new programme also helps preserve the UAE's heritage - by keeping indigenous Salukis and Arabian Maus alive, said Mrs Bahsoun.
"Many of our UAE feral cats are actually a native species of this region called the Arabian Mau, which are thought to be as old or older than the Egyptian Mau," she said.
Stray animals used to fall under the purview of Abu Dhabi Municipality, which shifted the responsibility to the CWM when it opened three years.
While calling the new plans "a major step to improving animal welfare" in Abu Dhabi, Raghad Auttabashi, a Syrian animal rights activist, believes the municipality should take it back.
"Leaving this in the hands of the Center of Waste Management which deals mostly with trash and waste sends the wrong message," she said. "Animals aren't trash, they aren't waste."
The awareness campaign includes brochures that explain how animal welfare figures into Islam, arguing the religion "lays great emphasis on animal rights and man's responsibility for their welfare".
The CWM is also asking anyone who witnesses animal cruelty or an animal suffering or has a colony of feral street cats or dogs near where they live or work, to contact them at 8001122.