"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress," Mahatma Gandhi once said, "can be judged by the way its animals are treated". Last year, the UAE introduced laws to protect animals and criminalise cruelty towards them. Animal rights activists welcomed the legislation, which imposed heavy penalties on those convicted of abusing or engaging in the illegal trade of animals. The previous year, a law introduced fines and a prison term for those found guilty of mistreating animals. Yet, as The National has reported, the abuse of animals continues.
The heartbreaking video of a cat caged in a Sharjah pet market – lying on its side and panting in the intense heat of the shop – has ignited calls for even harsher punishments for those who mistreat animals. As a Sharjah resident said: "Some of the animals we spotted were suffocating in cages." The authorities moved swiftly but the incident has prompted calls from animal rights activists for frequent surprise inspections at pet markets. This is a wise idea: the fear of being caught breaking the law can be a powerful deterrent and stop such mistreatment of animals – deemed a sin in Islam – from continuing unseen.
Authorities should act decisively and quickly when complaints of animal abuse are made. Any delay could have fatal consequences for defenceless creatures. Pet owners too must uphold their responsibilities to the animals in their care. There have been too many instances of residents simply dumping their pets when leaving the country or going on holiday, a deplorable act which should enlist penalties, whether financial or punitive. Microchipping pets so their owners can be traced could be one way to curb the number of pets being abandoned. There is a growing appreciation of the need to protect vulnerable animals in the UAE. Dubai Safari recently confiscated banned exotic animals from private owners. And last year Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, ordered a group of men caught torturing a cat to perform community service in Dubai Zoo. He set an example that such abominable cruelty should never be tolerated.