x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

The kitten and I needed a hero - fireproof was just a bonus

A dedicated animal rescue line in the UAE is need of the hour.

I needed a hero.

Last weekend, as I was strolling with a friend around Safa Park in Dubai, I thought I heard a cat in distress.

My friend, also an animal lover, hadn't heard anything. But I started walking, guided by my instinct - or, as some people mockingly call it, my "animal radar".

Unless you rescue animals regularly, you won't understand what I am talking about. Animal activists really do develop a sixth sense that tells them when a nearby animal or bird needs help. I know this is hard to believe but it happens regularly to me; often no one around me will have noticed anything.

One time recently I was being mocked about this by a group of friends while we were on a picnic. "What are you looking for?" they asked. They hadn't heard anything.

That's when I found a falling-apart nest full of baby birds. One had fallen to its death, but I was able to save the rest.

So I trust my radar. Perhaps these little creatures sense an animal activist nearby and call out.

On this occasion, I saw a black kitten up a large tree. It yelled out only when I was close to the tree, and then I looked up and saw it way up high, clinging to a thin branch.

How it got up there I have no idea, but I have seen cats run for their lives when they are being chased and bullied by children - or adults.

Black cats are always targets, as some believe there are demons or jinns inside them. Once, a tiny black kitten was clubbed to death by children in front of my building. I was too late to save it.

So I wasn't going to leave this one to find its way down on its own, especially given the height of the tree. I was worried that it might have injured itself in climbing.

Attempts to get a ladder were met with blank faces by workers in the park. Finally one woman helped me find one, but it was too short and flimsy. As I was trying to climb the tree, people yelled out "call someone to help the cat".

That is always the problem with any rescue operation. There is no one to call. There is no service dedicated to rescuing pets or birds. You are on your own, although we animal activists do help each other out.

I knew it would come to nothing, but I called Dubai Municipality. As usual, I was dismissed. Just as well, perhaps: if they had come, my experience suggests, they would have taken the kitten to be euthanised.

After 90 minutes of uncertainty, I got a suggestion from a seasoned animal activist: "Call Civil Defence."

First I called 999. When I explained, they advised me to call 997. I told the person there where I was, and about the problem. He laughed, but said: "We will send someone."

I was sceptical. Animal activists tend to be ignored. I say that if each friend on Facebook gave Dh10 a month, we would be able to save so many animals. But no one gives.

This time, though, there was a happy ending. After 10 or 15 minutes two Civil Defence vehicles arrived, a 4x4 and a big lorry. This seemed like a lot of hardware.

"I did say cat, yes?" I asked my friend. I was worried they had misheard me and thought there was an infant up there, as I often refer to kittens in distress as "poor babies".

The two men in the 4X4 were in fireproof Civil Defence uniform. I wished that my phone camera could take decent photos at night.

I was not 100 per cent impressed with their method, using a long stick to tap the tree, above the kitten's level, to encourage it downwards. But it worked: the kitten got down, jumped off and ran away before I could see if it was OK. It was wobbling, so there was some injury.

I thanked them profusely."We're not having a busy night," one of them said, laughing, as they left.

This case was typical: there were many concerned people in the park, but there was no one to call for help, and there is no official animal shelter. If a dedicated animal rescue line were set up here, I would be the first one to sign up as a rescuer.

Until then, thank you Civil Defence for being my hero that night.



On Twitter: @arabianmau