How Expo City Dubai became a safe haven for stray cats

A team of animal welfare volunteers in the district help with providing food, water and shelter

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Expo City Dubai continues to prove itself as an animal friendly neighbourhood.

About 80 stray cats now have the safety of dedicated spaces built on-site that include food, water and beds. Each space also has a retractable wall so that cats are free to come and go during the cooler months. There are also “cat condos” (small well-ventilated houses) located around the shaded and grassy areas of the district.

Faida Sabouneh, food safety and sustainability manager at Expo City Dubai, has been in the UAE for eight years. She grew up in an animal-loving household and started rescuing animals at an early age, an interest that led her to being involved in the district's project to help the felines.

“When I started with Expo 2020, there was a group [of people] that helped monitor our furry friends and tried to find homes for them as much as possible. I wanted to be involved to help cats, the predominate animals on-site,” Sabouneh tells The National.

“Our group has since grown and developed with the support of Expo City Dubai management, as protecting wildlife is a key priority here, and there is now an animal welfare programme to place the cat houses onsite and ensure they’re all taken care of.”

This continues Expo City Dubai's aim to prioritise animal welfare as part of its sustainability initiative. The area already has wooden stations stocked with water bowls, treats and waste bags so that people can enjoy the neighbourhood with their pets.

The idea to help the strays came after staff noticed a large number of cats on site. According to Sabouneh, necessary costs are covered by Expo City Dubai, including TNR (trap, neuter and return) appointments, as well as any necessary visits to the vet.

“The sanctuary idea came about because we needed a place to isolate any mothers and kittens if they were at risk, or to segregate any injured cats that needed a safe place to recover before being released or homed,” she says.

“It was initially placed in Expo City’s main office as this was the closest to our community and also allowed the cats to get acquainted with people. It has since been moved to Expo City Dubai where the entire team is now based. In addition, we have cat feeding stations installed across Expo City Dubai, which we refill with food – purchased by Expo City Dubai – and water as needed. We are always looking into initiatives to ensure our animal community is safe and healthy.”

While there is a dedicated team that helps with programme, Sabouneh says that the public can also get involved by helping spread word on the importance of taking care of stray animals.

“The public can help by spreading awareness on the importance of empathy and taking care of our surrounding,” she says. “True welfare extends beyond just provision; there should be active engagement and monitoring of the animals' well-being.

“Establishing a community that engages with these cats daily ensures they are healthy, allowing for early detection of any potential issues. Compassion towards the animals, especially when vulnerable, is a great value and this is a stepping stone to ensuring we have a sustainable future.”

While there are currently no plans to expand, Sabouneh says that the team is always around to help other animal welfare rescuers who may look to create their own sanctuaries for stray cats.

“Expo City Dubai always hopes to lead by example and we’d love to see our initiative implemented in other areas,” she says. “We are always happy to support and guide any community.”

Updated: March 28, 2024, 2:12 PM