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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Animal cruelty and the sadism of everyday life

It was only by the time it was too late that I realised the bundle wasn’t an unwanted carpet, but the remains of an enormous, and very dead, dog

Delores Johnson / The National
Delores Johnson / The National

Living in the centre of Abu Dhabi ­island, I’m always aware that my exposure to the animal world is one that’s peculiar to my life in the UAE.

As the owner of a rescued cat and two dogs from a refuge, I’m often awake early enough to hear the shrieks of white-eared bulbuls and thuggish myna birds as they sound their morning chorus, while an early morning dog walk inevitably reveals the glare of stray cats that sunbathe, sphinx-like, on local doorsteps and the roofs of parked cars.

The chickens and ducks that cross my path on my morning walks now seem commonplace, as do the evening flights of lurid, rose-ringed parakeets, but thankfully my neighbour’s pets always add a little spice to the usual urban menagerie.

Frequently on early Friday mornings, an Emirati gentleman and I nod to each other as he patrols the neighbourhood with a falcon on his wrist, and I’m now adept at lifting a local peacock back to safety over the high wall of the garden where it roosts, but my near neighbour’s Najdi sheep take the notion of prized pets to another level.

Exercised by two small children, who walk them on leashes made from bright-pink acrylic twine, the tall sheep have the distinctive Roman noses and long necks that are so admired by farmers and ­collectors of this Arabian breed.

In October 2008, more than 4,000 men gathered from across the region for the first official Saudi beauty pageant dedicated to the sheep. The competition took place in a spotlit and red-carpet-lined paddock just north of Riyad, and is reported to have attracted visitors from as far afield as Kuwait and the UAE.

The star of the show, however, was a 3-year-old ram called Burgan – which translates to Lightning – the most-prized sheep in the kingdom at the time, whose owner compared him to an oil well ­because its much sought-­after offspring were said to have ­commanded prices of more than 8 ­million riyals (Dh7.8m).

These ovine celebrities always send my equally Arabian Salukis into a frenzy, so if I spot them in the distance, I always walk my two, who are a handful at the best of times, in the opposite direction.

It was on such a detour that I had an animal encounter of a type I would sooner forget.

Passing by some bins, I saw what looked like a roll of carpet that had been dumped near an apartment block, and as usual, my hounds began to strain at their leads, eager for something different to sniff.

It was only by the time it was too late that I realised the bundle wasn’t an unwanted carpet, but the remains of an enormous, and very dead, dog.

The animal, which looked like some sort of long-haired, oversized Alsatian, had a wire coat hanger that was twisted, lethally, around its neck, and as I stood, struggling to keep my own dogs away from its corpse, it struck me that I was witness to an act of cruelty with malignance only overshadowed by the physical force that had gone into the execution.

As the depravity involved in the dog’s killing dawned on me, so too did the callous manner of its disposal and the huge disparities in the ways animals are treated in a place where falcons may have their own airline seats, but where tales of animal cruelty are an everyday occurrence.

Last month, The National reported on the case of a dog found with its tail sawn off, just five days after another dog was discovered with one of its legs partly ­amputated, both of which were crimes, vets decided, that required significant force and more than one perpetrator.

Acts of animal abuse are found in all societies, and research shows they are understood to be symptomatic of a suffering and mental disturbance that’s all too human.

But research in psychology and criminology has shown that people who commit acts of animal abuse often go on to commit acts of cruelty against similarly helpless human targets, while children who abuse animals are often repeating patterns of behaviour that they have experienced at home.

According to article 432 of the UAE’s Federal Punishment Law, individuals found abusing animals can be fined up to Dh10,000. But given what we know about the likely causes of such ­behaviour, the most sustainable ­deterrent is surely the efforts that should be made by parents with their children, who should be treated with the same kindness and empathy that would also protect the pets they have at home.

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Read more:

Animal abuse raises many key questions about us as a society

Five dogs die and seven critically ill in suspected poisoning in Abu Dhabi

Cat with marks carved on its body is latest case of cruelty in Dubai

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