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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 28 February 2021

Meet the woman changing the face of animal adoption in Saudi Arabia

Mayaser Bundagji has helped more than 3,000 pets find new homes

When Mayaser Bundagji's beloved husky puppy Lio went missing five years ago, she took to social media to look for any sign of him.

Little did she know this small act would be the beginning of a journey that would see her find homes for more than 3,000 abandoned animals.

“I contacted social media accounts for those who were interested in animals and I found also animals being offered for adoption,” Mrs Bundagji told The National.

She said many of the animals listed on sites like Facebook had been left to fend for themselves while their owners went travelling, or abandoned completely.

The plight of these animals tugged on Mrs Bundagji’s heartstrings, as she has loved animals from a young age.

Even though she found Lio, Mrs Bundagji felt the need to to set up her own animal shelter in Jeddah, which she named Coexistence with Me.

"The idea was initially denounced by some, but with time it began to find acceptance and understanding of what is meant by the term adoption,” she said.

Mayaser Bundagji's mission of caring for abandoned animals continues. Saleh Fareed for The National
Mayaser Bundagji's mission of caring for abandoned animals continues. Saleh Fareed for The National

In Saudi Arabia, pet ownership is a relatively new phenomenon and there are few official shelters for animals whose owners can no longer care for them.

“Many people do not like the idea of caring for pets at home,” Mrs Bundagji said.

“They see that the family is satisfied with the responsibility of its children, and it does not want another burden on its shoulders,” she added.

But times, and attitudes, are changing, she said. People are realising the positive impact pets can have on child development and mental health, she added.

Mrs Bundagji still uses social media as the a tool to secure new homes for the dogs, cats and birds in her care.

“We are posting their pictures on Instagram but we need more people to adopt them, so we can accept more abandoned animals," she said.

“The shelter works to treat animals for the various diseases and injuries they were exposed to, and to provide a suitable environment for them," she added.

She said fear and misinformation over the Covid-19 pandemic prompted many pet owners in Saudi Arabia to abandon their pets.

“During lockdown, people feared that they may contract the Covid-19 virus from their pet animals,” she said.

She received 50 calls daily, but could only take in between three and five pets at a time, due to the size of her shelter.

“I used to take advantage of those few hours we were given to move around. I had to go around the streets and feed these animals because of lockdown.”

Mayaser Bundagji shows a kitten to a visiting family. Saleh Fareed for The National
Mayaser Bundagji shows a kitten to a visiting family. Saleh Fareed for The National

Mrs Bundagji said once the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture assured the public that animals do not transmit Covid-19, more people came forward to adopt.

After spotting a dog at Coexistence With Me, Farah Al Yamani decided to adopt.

“I spoke to Mayaser and she assured me the dog had been examined by a vet and has no problems.

"Immediately I took the dog home and I and my children are enjoying its company,” Mrs Al Yamani said.

She praised Mrs Bundagji for helping the animals and called on the community to assist her in her work.

Over the 6 years the shelter has been open, it has rehomed around 3000 animals.

This increasing need has led to the shelter needing new premises and being given an official licence to operate.

Through the lectures and awareness campaigns she is running alongside her work at the shelter, Mrs Bundagji said she is noticing a trend where more people are becoming educated about adopting pets in Saudi Arabia.

Her final message: “ If you don’t want to adopt animals, then don’t hurt them”

Updated: February 2, 2021 09:28 AM

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