'Secret garden' means greener pastures for abandoned pets

Sharjah's Posh Paws Animal Sanctuary and Petting Farm, which takes in abandoned and injured creatures, is on the move to a bigger, better facility.

Laura Glanfield checks in on Moon, the South American Coati and resident of her petting zoo who has already been moved to the new location in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
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A farm in Sharjah that takes in abandoned and injured creatures is on the move to a bigger, better facility, sure to be a benefit to both the former strays and the people who find joy in them.

Not everyday do you get to witness the miracle of life though birth.

But for a group of 20 11-year-old students, they got the real deal this past spring when a birthday party turned out to live up to its name.

"It became a real 'birth' day," says Laura Glanfield, the owner and founder of the Posh Paws Animal Sanctuary and Petting Farm. "Our mama sheep started giving birth in the middle of the party, and all of the kids joined in to witness the whole experience, from how the baby lamb was born, to how it was doted on by its aunties of sheep."

The newborn lamb, simply known as Baby, is the latest four-legged member welcomed into a large family of animals and birds from almost every continent living on this patch of desert in Al Zubair, Sharjah.

"Most of the children only knew of lamb as food, as lamb chops, and so this was a real eye-opener and left a great impression on them, with many getting attached to the baby lamb and coming back to pet it and feed it," she says.

Dependent on donations and volunteers, the farm has been hosting birthday parties on its premises and even taking some of its residents to birthday parties and schools across the UAE since it opened its gates in 2009.

The farm is part of a bigger complex comprising of a kennel and cattery, a service that helps pay for the high costs of keeping the farm going. And all of this began with a "bad haircut".

"My dog Berty got a bad haircut at a local kennel, and so I decided to become a dog groomer myself," says Glanfield.

And slowly, that decision turned into something more.

"I kept ending up with people asking 'Can you keep my dog or cat over the summer?', as they knew I loved animals.

"So, slowly, I turned that into a business, and then noticed that I still had some land left over, and decided to turn it into an animal sanctuary," she said.

And as more and more animals and birds, especially exotic ones, found themselves at the sanctuary, it slowly turned into a farm of various characters.

"So many of the animals are friendly, and so I decided why not make into something more interactive, where both a person and the animal gets a chance to socialize and connect."

Rather than petting them through a barrier, visitors can go inside the enclosure, to feed, touch or hold the animals while learning about how to care for them correctly.

"Besides giving the children a chance to connect with the animal or bird, it helps in getting many of them adopted through this rare interaction," says Glanfield.

This summer, the sanctuary is going through a change and the farm is relocating to the lush farming area of Al Khawaneej in Dubai.

"It will be an even better farm with a cozier and greener setup," said Glandfield.

Rescued or donated, almost every furry or feathery farm resident has a past riddled with stories of abandonment, abuse or neglect before they found themselves on Glanfield's farm.

For example, Wonky Donkey, a three-legged donkey, was writhing in pain on a roadside in Al Ghail area near Ras Al Khaimah earlier this year.

"His right leg was severely wounded and it was full of maggots feeding on it. We had no choice but to amputate his front right leg," she says.

Rudolph the one-eyed deer; Doris the baboon (forced to wear a belt from her former owner and now deformed from it); the South American Coati (of the raccoon family) known as Moon; Angel, the black-and-white cow and its friend, the raven, that always sits on its back, are just some of the animals there.

The new farm, set to open in September, will have a completely different design and landscape concept developed for its residents.

"It will be like a secret garden," says Galina James, one of the volunteers sweating it out under the scorching sun as she digs and builds the duck pond.

As the general manager of Aqua Nature, a garden landscaping company specialising in water plants and ponds, James is designing the layout of the new farm on this 40-by-40 metres of rented land.

"It will be a collection of narrow, twisted paths that take you close to the animals and birds, to give it a cosy, natural feel," says James. "It will be just you and nature and its many beauties."

With the pond half down and just two water lilies floating, the ducks of different shapes, colors and sizes are diving in, splashing about and quacking away at James as she works diligently in the heat.

The swans and geese wait more patiently for the pond, while the chickens and roosters watch the scene from a distance with great interest before a sudden sound by one of the staff sends them running.

Over the past month, the farm has been slowly moving its tenants in cages via cars and trucks to the new location, keeping many of them in air-conditioned quarters until their open-air enclosures are ready.

Arnie, the armadillo, and his friend, Sonic, the hedgehog, who were brought in separately by owners that didn't know what to do with them when they became adult size, rustle around the farm. Each shy and unfriendly on their own, their personalities changed when introduced to each other at an enclosure here.

"They are the best of friends," says Glanfield.

There is the mice garden, where the tiny rodents are seen running about inside and out of toys such as plastic cars and lego pieces. The rabbits, guinea pigs, cats and dogs are the largest in numbers as they tend to get abandoned almost every summer.

"Already we had six rabbits given to us this summer as their owners were traveling and don't want them anymore," she says, adding they are struggling to keep up with the number of animals needing homes.

"Unfortunately, most of the calls I get are from owners who simply got bored of a pet and don't want it anymore.

"I end up getting so many exotic animals that were smuggled in or bought on the black market, that I always have to go back and research what type it is," she said.

Mainly run by her and three other staff members, Glanfield is always looking for volunteers to come and help out with the farm.

To set up her business, it cost her at least Dh100,000. Posh Paws has a total of 102 kennels, 42 large and 60 medium. All are equipped with air conditioning and each have their own private, shaded garden. There are a total of 40 units in the cattery, each air-conditioned and equipped with play mats, table and toys.

Despite always struggling to find funds, volunteers to help out with "petting" and good homes for the animals, Glandfield is all smiles. Besides her compassion and love for the creatures, it is the impression the farm leaves on its visitors that keeps her going.

"Most of the children and adults that come here have never seen any of these animals before, and so when they smile and leave with more information than they came with, I am happy."

For more information, you can contact Glandfield directly at 050 2730973 or by visiting www.poshpawsdubai.com.