x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Dubai volunteers' mission: new digs for old dogs

Animal shelters are bracing for the annual influx of older dogs this summer.

Anna Kuznetsova with Rufus, 6, who has a damaged back leg. Anna takes care of six dogs while also working full time as an interior designer. She is looking after Rufus while the Dubai Senior Dog Project finds him a full-time home, possibly with an older couple. Lee Hoagland / The National
Anna Kuznetsova with Rufus, 6, who has a damaged back leg. Anna takes care of six dogs while also working full time as an interior designer. She is looking after Rufus while the Dubai Senior Dog Project finds him a full-time home, possibly with an older couple. Lee Hoagland / The National

DUBAI // A group of volunteers led by a former nurse is finding new homes for old, unwanted dogs.

Animal shelters struggle to find homes for older dogs as most people who adopt prefer pups, particularly pedigree.

The problem worsens in summer when families are more likely to leave the country and abandon their pets, saying it is too stressful for older dogs to travel.

Hayley Strifler, who left her job as a nurse in aged care and moved from Australia two years ago, set up the Dubai Senior Dog Project in October last year to do something about the problem.

Hayley and a small group of volunteers devote their time to fostering older or disabled dogs and raising awareness on social media.

"Fundamentally, the biggest pro-blem is the transient expatriate population," she says. "People have to suddenly leave the country and have an old dog that cannot fly.

"There are long waiting lists for pure breeds and cute fluffy pets. Looking for homes for the others is difficult because of certain misconceptions."

The group has found new homes for 15 dogs. Hayley speaks proudly about the recent adoption of a 17-year-old dog.

"The dog had led a horrible life and had never been loved," she says. "It was going to be euthanised when its first owner moved homes."

At Dubai Senior Dog Project, animals are only put up for adoption if they have a clean bill of health.

"Some need to go home with medication but never with a high cost," Hayley says.

Anna Kuznetsova, 35, has been fostering Rufus, a six-year-old Rottweiler with a crooked back leg.

"It is not a challenge now because he is small, but as he grows older and bigger we have to be careful he does not put on weight and exert too much pressure on his legs," Anna says.

"A lot of people said 'put it down', but that is unfair. He is very healthy. And like human beings, you cannot just abandon dogs because of a disability."

The project is now looking for a permanent home for Rufus, possibly with an older couple who can give him continuity and routine.

"A dog gets stressed without a routine," says Hayley. "Put the water bowl in the same place or the bed in the same spot and they adjust very well."

Jackie Ratcliffe, chairwoman of the dog-welfare group K9 Friends, says many dump their dogs in summer for reasons other than worrying that the dog is unable to travel.

"Families say it is too stressful for older dogs to travel but I believe it has more to do with the cost of keeping an old dog," says Jackie, whose shelter took in 125 dogs last summer.

She says families with children prefer to adopt pups.

"It is because of the cost it entails and because older dogs have fewer years to live," Jackie says. Caring for a healthy older dog can cost up to Dh1,000 a year, while a younger pet costs between Dh500 and Dh600.

Rebecca Turner, clinic manager at the Modern Veterinary Clinic in Jumeirah, says that of the few abandoned dogs the centre receives each month, most are older pets in need of medical care.

"We had an old saluki, a big old dog, and it was so hard to find a home for it because it wasn't the most beautiful dog, and people weren't interested," Rebecca says.

She says the maintenance costs of an older dog causes some families to abandon them and deters others from adopting them.

"With age, you have to monitor their teeth, watch for breed-specific issues such as joints and maintain the annual vaccination," Rebecca says.

aahmed@thenational.ae