x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Emirati in New York: On dressing up dogs

Fatima al Shamsi on why dressing up dogs is disrespectful and cruel to animals.

I sat in Tompkins Square Park, chai latte in hand, soaking up the sunshine and the cool breeze. The only thing disturbing the peace was my friend's rant at the sight of what he had just seen: "You don't understand. The dog was completely shaved except for the hairs behind his ears that were dyed bright pink, and styled so that they stuck up. The poor thing was dressed in a ridiculous pink jacket and matching boots. Lost all its dignity!"

As if on cue, a lady with a small Yorkshire terrier dressed in a neon "hottie" sweater trotted by us. I consider myself an animal lover, and as a result nothing gets to me more than when animals are made a spectacle of. I have the same reaction to people who dress up their babies. It might seem like a funny idea at the time but to dress up your kid or your pet in some ridiculous outfit is, well, simply ridiculous, not to mention cruel.

As a kid I wasn't allowed to have a pet. I begged for a cat. In the second grade at school, when we were living in Paris, I came home one day and found a gigantic fluffy cat that took up most of my bed. This was my dad's idea of a compromise. I love him, but a furry toy wasn't exactly what I was expecting. Sorry, I was told, no cats because my sister was allergic to them and no dogs because, well, just because. However, I did end up with fish and two small water turtles.

The majority of both Sunni and Shia Muslim jurists consider dogs to be ritually unclean, although the validity of this is debatable. However, outside their ritual uncleanness, the Quran strongly urges Muslims to treat all animals with compassion and not to abuse them. Animals, together with the rest of creation, are believed to praise God, even if this praise is not expressed in the human language.

Growing up, my cousin had a lot of pets at my grandmother's house in Abu Dhabi. I loved going to visit for the summer. She had parrots and cats and dogs. According to Sunni tradition, you aren't supposed to have dogs as pets because it is believed that angels do not enter a house where there is one - a theory supported by my aunt but contradicted by my mother. Nonetheless, my cousin had Chihuahuas that were pampered at home and a Rottweiler out in the garden. To me, dogs have always been a symbol of the wholesome all-American pet. I grew up with movies and stories such as Old Yeller and shows like Lassie about brave and loyal dogs.

I've always felt that the falcon was the symbolic pet of the Emirates. Although it is not typical to have falcons as pets any more, falconry is still a valued tradition in the UAE. And it was a big part of our life in the desert. As much as I'd love to have a pet cat, I'd love a peregrine falcon even more. I think it is such a beautiful bird and I've always associated its beauty, posture, eyes and grandeur with the people of the region. Perhaps it's all the pictures of Sheikh Zayed with a "Saqr", but it holds a majestic image to me. According to His Highness, falconry or "al ganas" as it is called in the Emirati dialect is a sport that teaches endurance, strength, and patience.

The ability of a predator, such as the falcon, to be tamed and made to obey the call of its master is a mystery of nature, similar to how pet dogs can learn to be faithful to their owners. The way a relationship develops between animals and humans has always fascinated me. We are all living creatures, so there should be respect in the way we treat our animals. Have a pet, treat it well, make it part of the family, but don't dye its hair and dress it in leather boots. Really, there is no need for that.