x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Abu Dhabi's street cats facing quick but illegal deaths

Despite an emirate-wide ban on killing healthy street cats, hundreds are being put down in Abu Dhabi every week.

A stray cat near the beach at the Umm Suqueim area of Dubai.
A stray cat near the beach at the Umm Suqueim area of Dubai.

ABU DHABI // Despite an emirate-wide ban on killing healthy street cats, hundreds are being put down in Abu Dhabi every week. The pest-control company AlphaMed is contracted by the Center of Waste Management-Abu Dhabi to trap cats and hand them over to veterinary clinics where they are subsequently killed, often within hours of their capture. A report commissioned by the centre and prepared by Omar al Shoubaki, the contracts manager of AlphaMed, indicated that during a five-day period in December, 102 cats were trapped in various Abu Dhabi districts and delivered to Falcon Hospital. Ninety-eight were put down almost immediately.

Some vets have expressed concern that pets are being picked up in the sweeps and put to death before a stipulated two-week grace period is completed. The law states that stray or lost animals "may be detained for care by any authorised person" or authority. The following conditions must be met: the animal must be detained in a suitable, healthy place and it must be provided with veterinary care. Should the owner of the animal not appear within 14 days, the animal may be put down.

Other criteria for killing a stray animal include illness and lameness. According to the AlphaMed report, which was given to The National by a source, the cats that were trapped were immediately put down. Numerous calls and e-mails to the Center of Waste Management for clarification on why so many cats were killed went unanswered. According to Fadi Daoud, a vet with the British Veterinary Clinic, if 100 street cats were randomly trapped, five or fewer would be suffering from an incurable disease or injury that would warrant a quick death. "The vast majority of street cats are healthy," he said.

Amer Abu Abed, the deputy director of Falcon Hospital, refused to discuss the report. "Things will be changing within a couple of weeks with the introduction of a new law banning the euthanising of street cats," he said. The new law is expected to be a total ban on killing the animals. An AlphaMed representative who asked not to be identified said his company was contracted only to trap the cats and deliver them to Falcon Hospital.

"AlphaMed delivers the cats to Falcon where the decision is made on what to do with them," he said. "AlphaMed should not be held responsible for what happens to the cats once they are delivered to Falcon." When asked what happens to the majority of cats trapped, he said: "They are euthanised." According to Raghad Auttabashi, an animal rights activist who supports a trap, neuter and release policy, it is cheaper to kill a cat than to treat and vaccinate it.

A "Criteria for Euthanasia" document given to the German Veterinary Clinic by Abu Dhabi Municipality, which was in charge of pest control until 2008, states that kittens under three months and cats over five years can be killed even if they are healthy. Regarding end-term pregnant females, the document states: "It is better to keep alive until delivery." According to the document, cats that are found to be emaciated or dehydrated can also be killed, despite arguments that proper feeding and watering can revive them.

The municipality no longer handles street cats, but an animal rights activist said the criteria for their disposal are unchanged. Jonathan Hale, the chief veterinarian at the British Veterinary Centre, has expressed concern that house pets have been caught up in the sweep for street cats since the Center for Waste Management took over pest-control duties. "Over the past year there has been a massive increase in the number of pet cats gone missing," he said.

Mohammed Hilal, a Jordanian vet in private practice, was shocked to learn that the criteria allowed the killing of kittens. "The problem is that there's no one supervising what happens to the cats," he said. "It's all done quietly and secretly, and not humanely. Until recently, cats were being gassed to death." The Arabian Mau, native to the region, was the breed most often found on the streets of Abu Dhabi, said Petra Muller, the president of the Middle East Cat Society.

"With the expansion the UAE has seen in recent times, it is inevitable that man and cat are encroaching on one another's space," she said. @Email:ealghalib@thenational.ae