x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

A brutal cat shooting that demands a local response

This week's report of a tortured cat brings back memories of childhood efforts to help animals, efforts that still seem worthwhile today.

Whether we finished our homework or not, it didn't matter. We, the youth of the Saudi Azzam Compound, always gathered at sunset to do what we called PPP, or peace police patrolling.

Our ages ranged from six to 16, and we came from different background and religions. Sometimes there were just two of us, sometimes five and other times we had visitors join our group.

It was the late 1980s. One day a cat had been found stabbed, sprayed with toxic cleaning solutions and left hanging by its tail at a tennis court with what looked like a shoelace. After that we couldn't sit still.

There were over 200 homes in this compound, and most of the residents were families that owned pets. We decided to take matters into our own hands when the management of the compound and parents ignored our pleas to help fight such incidents of animal abuse.

Some, even adults, mocked us for wearing our group's fluorescent caps. Animal rights were not "in vogue" at the time, and so we were outcasts. You would think it would help to bring up the sayings of Prophet Mohammed and even recite verses from the Quran that stress the importance of animal rights and how unkindness to a helpless living creature is forbidden. But it backfired.

People hated being lectured to, and if reminded of doing something wrong they became defensive. We were even called "weird" and "weak" for bothering to lobby on behalf of animals. "There are children in Africa dying; go help them instead of some dumb animals," was a common line.

But we were not in Africa, so we did what we could. In fact, we stopped numerous incidents of animals being abused. It's surprising just how cruel people can be when they think no one is watching.

Needless to say, when I read in The National yesterday about the plight of Mickey, a cat that barely survived a dozen shots from an air gun in a residential compound in Dubai, I was angry and disappointed that incidents like this still happen. I hope the children in that compound will do something about it like we did all those years ago.

Sure, children are busy. But so were we. We had homework, video games and other distractions, but somehow we managed to remain vigilant. Many who didn't even like animals joined us after witnessing the results of rescue operations.

One boy I remember, who used to torment dogs and cats before we got hold of him, ended up adopting some of the rescued animals.

On visiting a friend at my old Saudi compound this year, I noticed that our group's movement had not been picked up by the new generation of children living there. Only former PPP members, now adults, were keeping the rescue operations alive.

To my parents' annoyance, I ended up getting involved in yet another rescue, and realised how much more difficult it is now. A cat had fallen over the main wall of the compound. In the old days, we would just climb over and rescue it. But now, since the terrorist attacks on compounds in Riyadh in 2003 and Khobar in 2004, barricades have gone up and national guards are stationed at these residential areas.

After an hour of begging the guards, my friend hopped into the back of the armoured army car and sped to the spot where the cat had fallen.

The first rescue attempt failed after Fluffy ran from the loud noise of the heavy car. This continued for several days, until finally, Fluffy risked it all and climbed the wall, getting deep cuts on her chest and legs as she jumped back into the arms of her grateful caretaker.

Throughout this, the army men watched and even joked that there are plenty of other cats to take her place. But as I was leaving the compound I also noticed a group of them sharing their shawarma with a kitten that had walked up to their watch post.

If only Mickey had found himself in such welcoming company.