DUBAI // People are being urged to report pet shops selling diseased and injured animals in violation of welfare laws.
The appeal by Government inspectors follows the rescue of a Persian kitten from a pet shop in Satwa.
The animal, blind from an untreated eye infection and soaked in urine, had been near death when the municipality received a complaint.
"If you don't complain there is no improvement," said Ghaith Al Falasi, head of the animal welfare, pet shop and meat inspection unit. "I was shocked when I saw that [kitten]. This stuff, you don't see it."
In Dubai, selling unhealthy animals is punishable by a Dh20,000 fine or a year in jail, according to animal welfare law N16.
Dubai's 550 pet shops are inspected at least once a month. Complaints are addressed within 48 hours and a second inspection takes place within three days to a week, Mr Al Falasi said. The department has received only two public complaints since last July.
Animal welfare groups believe this is because people are often too scared to report cases.
"It breaks my heart, you know," said Montserrat Martin, the founder of Friends of Animals.
"It doesn't fit with the visions of the country that animals are getting treated this way. We have rules and we need to follow them."
Enforcement varies between cities. During a recent visit to the pet market behind Bawadi Mall in Al Ain, many animals were in cramped cages and without water for hours at midday.
A Great Dane with a swollen hind paw was hunched in a cage too small for it to stand upright. Two huskies jumped up and down in a 1square-metre glass cage, while an underweight Saluki puppy ate its own faeces as soon as it defecated.
"It's a Saluki, it should be hungry to run fast," said the shop assistant.
Dog waste was cleaned by hosing it through large holes in the plastic floors of the cages. Staff said none of the dogs had been exercised for at least a month.
"It's forbidden by the municipality," the assistant said.
The shop owner could not be contacted for comment.
Al Ain Municipality inspectors said dogs should be exercised a "minimum" of every five days and have space to stand, sleep and turn around comfortably. Inspectors said they could tell if dogs did not receive adequate exercise by their behaviour.
But Dr Nicholas Terraz, a veterinarian at the British Veterinary Centre in Abu Dhabi, said 30 minutes of exercise twice daily was the "bare minimum" for an animal.
"It should do its toilet outside for a start and if it can't, it should be cleaned out properly and disinfected," he said.
Cages with holes are uncomfortable and "not adequate" for animal welfare, he added. Large holes in the floor of a cage could also trap a dog's legs.
The National showed Dr Terraz photographs of the dogs at Al Ain pet market. He said: "The Saluki is very underweight. The ribcage, dorsal spinal processes and even the femur bone of the right hind leg are way too visible."
He said the Saluki appeared to have a nutritional deficiency and could be suffering from worms.
Dr Terraz added that the purple spray used on the Great Dane's hind foot was probably an antibiotic spray - old fashioned and "unlikely to have been prescribed by a vet".
Pet shops are graded by the municipality, with grade A pet shops in Al Ain visited once every two or three months, and grade C pet shops visited every one or two weeks.
The shop with poor standards had a C grade, but the municipality made its last visit there in June. This month's visit was delayed because of the high demand for market and butchery inspections before Ramadan, said Dr Loai Abdulrahman, a veterinarian at Al Ain public health department, who leads the inspection unit.
"We ask people to help us with that because we cannot inspect each pet shop daily," Dr Abdulrahman said. "Most of the people who work in these shops are not well trained and they do make some mistakes."
He advised consumers not to be shy about making reports "because this is a matter of life for these animals".
"We are very happy when we see some people are worried about animals because they help us to do our job," he added.
There were three complaints about pet shops in Al Ain last month.