x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Where the unloved in the UAE find shelter

An animal lover who rescues abandoned pets is among 12 UAE residents nominated for the Spread Some Inspiration award, which recognises women who dedicate their lives to a good cause in the Arabian Gulf. Vivian Nereim reports

Veterinary Technician Gabor Gajdacs preforms surgery on a stray cat at the Sharjah Cat and Dog Shelter. To his left is Adrienn Krznai, a veterinary physician also working at the shelter. Razan Alzayani / The National
Veterinary Technician Gabor Gajdacs preforms surgery on a stray cat at the Sharjah Cat and Dog Shelter. To his left is Adrienn Krznai, a veterinary physician also working at the shelter. Razan Alzayani / The National

SHARJAH // Emma Cresswell's day starts at the gate of the Sharjah Cat and Dog Shelter where the emirate's unwanted animals are tied up overnight or tossed over the fence.

There might be a sickly cat, a litter of puppies or an injured dog. Wherever they came from, the shelter is their new home and Emma, the shelter's director, is their carer.

After a manic routine of veterinary operations, phone calls and pet adoptions, the Briton goes home to nine dogs and six cats - shelter animals she could not bear to put down.

"I've got the ones which have got three legs, one eye," says Emma, 34. "It's misfit city in our house."

She is one of more than a dozen UAE residents nominated for the Spread Some Inspiration award to recognise "inspiring women" in the Arabian Gulf.

Nominations of women who have dedicated their lives to a cause close this month.

The winner, chosen through online public voting, will receive US$10,000 (Dh36,720) to help in their work.

While Emma's organisation and its programme to sterilise stray cats is supported by the Sharjah government, it could always use more resources, she says. The flow of abandoned animals is unrelenting. "We're getting about 10 dogs in a day," she says. "I have space for 50 but I've already got 100. It's very distressing."

Emma has lived in the UAE for more than a decade. Previously she worked in business, trying to turn around failing ventures.

After going back to school to qualify as a veterinary technician, she was asked to set up the shelter in 2009. Sharjah had no animal shelter at the time.

"Earlier, they were actually putting poison down for the feral animals that were living outside, which is a horrific thing to do," Emma says.

With support from the Sharjah Ruler, the shelter was designed to be a more humane alternative. Its workers have trapped, sterilised and released thousands of stray cats.

The shelter's mission is to care for cats and dogs, but birds, goats and even a cow have landed on its doorstep. About a year ago someone brought in a baboon, Emma says.

"They had been feeding it chocolate at home since it was very small, so its back legs were like elastic and it couldn't walk," she says.

The animal was transferred to Sharjah's wildlife centre.

"We're not going to start delving into primates and things," Emma says. "I have enough."

Her hands are full with side projects to generate more revenue. Next to the shelter, workers are building a pet hotel to comfortably house up to 80 dogs while their owners are away.

In their spare time, Emma and her husband make pet beds to sell at local craft markets.

"It helps us buy a little bit more food or those extra drugs that we could do with," she says.

New arrivals to the shelter include three kittens so young their pink skin is still visible through their fur. In a back room, four puppies nestle together across from two Rottweilers.

"We've had quite a few pure bred dogs dumped on us," Emma says. "A lot of people will get them when they're very small and then after a year they're not cute any more, and they end up getting dumped."

The fact that some animals must be put down weighs on her. "Emotionally, it's horrible," she says. But she tries to remember the almost 500 shelter animals she estimates have found new homes. "You've just got to focus on the positive," Emma says.

For information on the Spread Some Inspiration award, a partnership between UN Women and Philadelphia Cream Cheese, go to www.phillyarabia.com.

To find out more about the shelter, search for the Sharjah-Cat-Dog-Shelter page on Facebook.

vnereim@thenational.ae