x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Government to open animal shelter

The capital will get its first shelter for stray and feral cats and dogs, which until now have been euthanised or picked up and cared for by volunteer organisations.

ABU DHABI // The capital will get its first shelter for stray and feral cats and dogs, which until now have been euthanised or picked up and cared for by volunteer organisations. The facility will be managed by the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital in cooperation with the Center of Waste Management - Abu Dhabi, it was announced yesterday. No details on the cost or timetable involved in building the new centre were revealed and there was no mention of whether animals brought there would be put down. Animals will be neutered or spayed and some of them offered to people looking for pets, the centre said.

The proposal for the shelter - which will also feature a quarantine station, surgery and treatment rooms - was drawn up after studying control programmes for feral and stray cats and dogs in major cities in the US, Canada and Europe. "The decision to establish such an animal shelter clearly shows the strong dedication and commitment of the Abu Dhabi Government to support the welfare of all animals, including feral cats and stray dogs," said Majid al Mansouri, the managing director of the Center of Waste Management.

Animal rights organisations have previously criticised the way stray cats and dogs were dealt with. In 2008, the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, where no one was available to comment yesterday, was criticised for participating in a municipality campaign that culled thousands of cats. Although the animals were apparently euthanised in a humane manner, activists took issue with the sheer number of cats killed - believed to be in the thousands. The German Veterinary Clinic and the American Veterinary Clinic also took part in that campaign.

Yesterday, animal rights activists welcomed news of the shelter, but wanted more details before evaluating the Government's plan. "I am really pleased, but I will only celebrate on the day I am standing in that shelter and seeing it for myself," said Anita Signorino, a trapping coordinator at Feline Friends Abu Dhabi, an organisation that helps cats in distress and runs adoption and sterilisation programmes. She added: "My personal hope is that they have a team dedicated to animal rescue."

Petra Mueller, of the Middle East Cat Society, said the shelter would need to be run by expertly trained staff. "They need to have special cars and catching facilities, and they have to be able to know if an animal has a microchip [to avoid catching people's pets]," she said. Funding would also be crucial, said Dr Jonathan Hale, of the British Veterinary Clinic, who estimated it could cost up to Dh8million (US$2.1m) to build and operate a facility for Abu Dhabi.

"Doing this properly is going to be expensive," he said. "Mainly this is going to cost money, it is not going to be a profit-making establishment or even break-even." @Email:vtodorova@thenational.ae