Last week, more than 150 cats were found dumped in the Abu Dhabi desert.
Animal rescuers from around the UAE banded together on September 28 to search the Al Falah area. They rescued 97 cats over the next few days – although a few rescued died due to ill health. Two dogs, a husky and a golden retriever were also found but the husky did not survive.
And, as Abu Dhabi's Department of Municipalities and Transport continues to appeal for information about the "inhumane act", some of those who alerted authorities shed light on the horrifying discovery.
David and Jacqueline Appleby, founders of Microchipped.ae, which connects lost pets with owners, were some of the first on the scene.
The couple in Abu Dhabi, who previously lost three cats due to relocation, say a video from the location went viral and word spread quickly in the animal rescue community. More than 200 chipped in to help. Some volunteers went straight to the desert to help search, while others found different ways to offer assistance.
“We were utterly shocked and appalled by the scenes of devastation,” says Camelia O’Hara who, along with her husband, is the owner of Mike’s Vet in Dubai.
“We then decided to open our vet doors to as many cats as possible and provide them with shelter and care until they are fostered or an adopter is found.”
They are treating 25 of the cats at their clinic. Other clinics helping include Dubai's Modern Vet as well as Pure Life Vet and British Vet in Abu Dhabi.
O’Hara says she is impressed by how everyone came together so quickly after the discovery.
“Scores of people mobilised at a drop of a hat and a system was put in place in under 24 hours to track and coordinate, not only rescue efforts but also updates pertaining to the animal status across the various clinics in the country,” she says.
Since the rescue, a couple of the cats have already been healthy enough to be adopted or find temporary homes. But in the past week, social media pages and accounts have been created to raise more awareness.
One Instagram account, @Al_Falah_Cats_Adoption, has been set up by rescuers; they're creating individual posts for the cats to help rehome them.
The website RuffPawz.com has also been instrumental in helping with food and supplies as well as the fostering or adoption process. People can visit the site to purchase food and supplies to donate towards the cats.
There is also a link to see which cats are at which vet, along with their details. For those interested in fostering or adopting, there is a section with a form to complete.
If someone has rescued an Al Falah cat, they are also asked to register the feline on the site so it can be added to a running master list of all the rescues with their microchip number in hopes of potentially reuniting them with their owner.
While the last few days have been harrowing for many involved, the animal rescue community in the UAE has stepped up tremendously, Appleby says.
“We’ve got a dedicated brigade of volunteers trying to match microchip numbers to images and those details to owners,” he adds.
“We have a separate adoption and foster group starting and made public with a website. Through the community effort, we’re managing to support the 93 surviving animals we’ve rescued.”
The news has also reached cat lovers abroad, with international groups extending a helping hand.
"We have had a phenomenal response across the Emirates and internationally. Assistance has come from the US, UK and Australia," says Appleby. "We are sure many other countries are supporting our effort, only it is hard to track as we are overwhelmed with the amazing support."
On Wednesday, Abu Dhabi's Department of Municipalities and Transport issued a statement saying it immediately began investigations after receiving the report and it will "take all relevant administrative and legal measures”.
It said inquiries are under way in co-ordination with the relevant authorities to "identify perpetrators of this inhumane act, which contradicts civilised morals and values”.
“The DMT has also underscored that it values the sentiments of the public and activists and recognises the contributions of volunteers in responding to this incident,” the statement added.
The department appealed for anyone with information to come forward by calling 800 555.
Animal rights organisation People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, better known as Peta, is offering a $5,000 reward for information about who may have dumped the cats.