The growing number of feral cats on Lulu Island in Abu Dhabi highlights the issues of pet abandonment and stray animals in the UAE. As The National reported yesterday, the estimated number of stray cats living on island has increased by 350 per cent in just four years – to about 200 – due to rampant breeding. Animal Welfare Abu Dhabi (Awad), a volunteer-run group, responded by planning a sterilisation programme with the help of the public to keep the number under control.
But are sterilisation programmes enough to ensure the welfare of these animals, and to protect nesting birds, including herons, falcons, egrets and flamingos, from being attacked by hungry cats? Moreover, these cats are just about surviving and their habitat and diet can consist mostly of garbage. They depend on the community’s help to survive. Some of them could suffer from parasites and infected wounds resulting from fights, for example.
Generally, and beyond Lulu, there is a need for a more permanent solution to the problem. The UAE’s highly transient population means that many of those who decide to relocate or go back home may continue to leave their pets behind since taking pets abroad is perceived as a challenging and expensive undertaking. And so the number of stray animals will likely keep growing into the future.
Ramadan is a good time of the year to think about animal welfare. Of all other pets, cats have a special status in the Islamic culture. There are several stories of the importance of treating cats specifically – and animals generally – with tenderness and mercy.
The best solution migh be to establish a shelter on Lulu Island for stray cats and other abandoned pets and to oversee the process of trapping, handling, neutering and adoption. The shelter can host these cats and join Abu Dhabi Animal Shelter in its efforts to make sure that healthy cats have the opportunity to find a new home after being screened for any diseases and vaccinated.
The UAE in general needs more animal shelters. The fact that as an island it is a natural quarantine area also helps.