x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

For pets in the UAE, summer is the cruel season

Every summer irresponsible owners go on holiday and dump their pets at shelters struggling to cope with them.

An average of six animals a week are abandoned at the Pets'n Us Veterinary Clinic.
An average of six animals a week are abandoned at the Pets'n Us Veterinary Clinic.

It happens every summer: irresponsible owners go on holiday and dump their pets at shelters struggling to cope with them. It's tough on the pets and the people who care for them, writes Anna Zacharias FUJAIRAH // Animal shelters in the Northern Emirates are overflowing, a condition sadly typical of the summer season, as owners abandon pets before going abroad for holidays. For example, the Pets'n Us Veterinary Clinic in Fujairah is already showing all the signs of overcrowding. The gardens of the villa housing the clinic have been converted into kennels and the car park is now a cattery.

An average of six animals a week are abandoned on the clinic's doorstep, many by owners who had adopted the pets a few months before leaving for holidays. Some balked at the cost of pet care, which can quickly run in the thousands of dirhams for a kennel or a pet sitter. "Two weeks ago we had a big cage with a mother and three kittens in front of the door and it happens at least once a week," said Irene Vieira-Neves, the animal care specialist who runs the clinic. "It's all the time, but summer is a big problem. It's expensive for us because people don't realise that the more animals I get, the more people I will have to hire."

The crowding outside is spreading to the office, which is ruled by 13 cats that lounge on its bookcases and desks. The reception area is overseen by Muppet, a Persian cat that somehow manages to sleep on the shelves while puppies scuttle across the tile floor. At the moment two veterinarians and two assistants attend to the clinic's 40 cats and 10 dogs. Ms Vieira-Neves keeps another dozen or so cats at her home and some animals will be moved to a farm outside the city. Still, there is not enough room as people begin their mass exodus for the summer.

"We've actually begun to turn people away," Ms Vieira-Neves said. "Last week we had a woman bring a cat here and when we told her we couldn't take it she threatened to go to the police." The same situation can be found at the RAK Animal Welfare Centre, which unofficially opened in February but is still under construction. Much of the problem can be traced to owners who don't understand the demands of owning pets, said Melissa Davis, who manages the centre.

"When it comes down to paying for boarding or kenneling, maybe they can't afford it and maybe they left it to the last minute and there's nothing available," she said. "The kennels in Dubai are booked up in January or February." Some of those abandoning their animals contend that their pets need medication or surgeries, Ms Davis said. That makes it harder to judge which appointments are legitimate requests for care.

"People are going to vets and dropping the dogs off for treatment and driving off," she said. "If you're going to have a pet, you've got to realise and plan ahead for those costs and if you can't afford it, don't adopt." Her shelter will not accept dogs that are accustomed to air conditioning until the facility is finished at the end of summer. It will accommodate about 130 cats and more than 60 dogs when completed. Still, that is not stopping people from leaving pets on her doorstep.

"We've had a couple of dogs returned in the wee hours of the morning when no one is around," Ms Davis said. "We've just taken in five dogs today." Both the RAK and Fujairah clinics offer adoption free, though donations are welcome to cover vaccination and neutering costs. "People don't realise what wonderful animals there are in the shelter because these animals are so grateful for a second chance and they always turn out to be the best pets," Ms Vieira-Neves said.

azacharias@thenational.ae