x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

How a prince changed my views on saving UAE strays

As I learned, and the Prophet surely understood, being a rescuer is hard work, and those who do it regularly are true heroes.

While a man was walking, he felt thirsty and went down a well and drank water from it. On coming out of it, he saw a dog panting and eating mud because of excessive thirst. The man said: 'This dog is suffering from the same problem as that of mine.' So he went down the well, filled his shoe with water, caught hold of it with his teeth and climbed up and provided the water to the dog. Allah thanked him for his good deed and forgave his sins. I recalled this story, related by the Prophet Mohammed, not long ago when I came across a cat near a local shopping mall.

It lay there pleading with its sky-blue eyes, trying to catch anyone's attention, its tired voice barely heard over the noise of moving cars and pedestrians making their way to and from the shopping mall.

White and fluffy, this cat's injuries were quite obvious, with blood staining its coat. I could have ignored him, like the majority of shoppers were doing. But for some reason I just couldn't. I recalled how a homeless man in Canada once made me feel guilty after I passed him without giving him a second look. "I am here, don't pretend you can't see me," he yelled as I walked by.

But I saw this kitty. I didn't want to pretend otherwise. I knew this was going to be a hassle, and I knew I would be responsible for it the minute I decide to help. But whatever doubts or anxiety I had faded once I approached him, and he looked up at me with those eyes.

Using my sweatshirt, I picked him up and took him to my car. He seemed to enjoy my BMW's smooth drive, as he went to sleep within minutes. Kitty could finally rest a bit, despite his great pain from apparently being hit by a car.

This is where the trouble began. Activists rescue helpless animals on a regular basis. I did it just once, and encountered so many obstacles and lack of help from even the closest of friends.

I drove from one vet to another. The first told me the kitty would certainly die, a second said only Dh7,000 could save it, and a third simply refused to even examine a stray. I refused to just give up on the cat, who was fighting for its life when I found it, so I paid for painkillers until I could find a vet who would help me.

While I was making my rounds, I met a woman in distress over her puppy, whose nails were cut too short, damaging its legs. I saw a baby gazelle in great pain after a botched hunting session. And I saw so many cases of abandoned pets and the lack of space and facilities for them. They often ended up in the scorching heat of outdoor cages, to be put down eventually. I lost my temper so many times that when my father called me in the middle of the day, he warned me that worrying about animals "would be the death" of me.

It looked hopeless until someone from AlRahma Society, an animal welfare society in UAE, informed me they have a arrangement with a vet clinic in Dubai, the Blue Oasis Petcare Hospital, which gives special rates for rescued animals.

It turns out that Prince - as I called him for his elegant behaviour throughout this ordeal - could be saved and emerge perfectly healthy with an operation.

Now, the harder task is at hand: finding Prince a loving home. There are so many abandoned pets in the UAE; Prince is just one more orphan in need of a roof.

Having gone through it, I understand why people might not bother to rescue animals. There is no system in place to handle these victims, like an animal rescue team, that one phone call can solve. Perhaps more importantly, vets in the country are not given enough of an incentive to treat strays. They should be subsidised by the government so that they can afford to help animals and also survive themselves. This might also bring down veterinary bills, which could convince pet owners not to dump animals.

As I learned, and the Prophet surely understood, being a rescuer is hard work, and those who do it regularly are true heroes.

rghazal@thenational.ae