x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Activists condemn cat euthanasia scheme

Animal rights activists have attacked campaigns to control the number of stray cats in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

This is one of 7,000 to 10,000 feral cats living on the streets of Abu Dhabi.
This is one of 7,000 to 10,000 feral cats living on the streets of Abu Dhabi.

Animal rights activists have attacked campaigns to control the number of stray cats in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, claiming thousands have been slaughtered. The municipality had said the Abu Dhabi campaign would be temporary and only target sick and old cats but activists say the killing has been indiscriminate over a 10-month period. In Dubai, where some cats are sterilised and later released, they claim a public-awareness campaign has exaggerated the health risks cats pose.

No overall figure for the number of cats killed in Abu Dhabi is available, but almost 900 have been put down at one of the three veterinary clinics involved in the programme. Activists estimate up to 7,000 animals may have been killed in the whole campaign, which started at the end of last year. Feline Friends, a cat welfare group, originally backed the Abu Dhabi programme but withdrew its support, saying the municipality had gone against an agreement to start sterilising rather than killing the strays after a temporary cull.

"Feline Friends is very disappointed," said Anita Signorino, a trapping co-ordinator for the group. "The agreement was 'we will endorse euthanasia... for a certain period of time'." Two private companies, Alpha Med and Eagle Environmental Systems and Pest Control, are contracted to trap the cats. The strays are then taken to the German Veterinary Clinic, the American Veterinary Clinic, or the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, where they are put down.

The killing, Mrs Signorino said, is done with two injections - one to put the cat to sleep and a second to stop its heart. "It is a more humane alternative," she said, explaining that until recently the cats would have been left in the desert to starve or die of thirst. But Mrs Signorino said the period of euthanasia was supposed to be followed by a sterilisation programme, in which the cats would be returned to the streets. That was to begin last March but the date had been pushed back to June and then October.

The German Veterinary Clinic sterilised seven cats last Sunday. "To get an OK from the Government has been quite a long process," said Dr Katrin Jahn, the clinic's owner and general manager, explaining why the cat-killing programme lasted longer than envisaged. "They have realised it was not working because the population of cats did not go down." Dr Jahn could not say how many cats were killed since the beginning of the campaign, but 849 cats were killed at the American Veterinary Clinic since Dec 24 last year.

In Dubai, a press release from the municipality in October claimed stray cats "could be a direct cause for spreading contagious diseases like rabies and toxoplasmosis". Petra Mueller, the president of the Middle East Cat Society, said the complaints focused on cats only, but the toxoplasma parasite lived in all warm-blooded animals. Dr Hisham Fahmi, the head of Dubai Municipality's veterinary section, said the campaign was not intended to spread panic but to stop people feeding stray cats and releasing them from traps.

The municipality said there were 150,000 stray cats in Dubai. vtodorova@thenational.ae