A search is under way for three missing pet cats believed to have been taken mistakenly by pest controllers in Abu Dhabi.
Blacky, 10, Monty, 4, and Winnie, 3, were three strays taken in and homed by Jacqueline and David Appleby, who live in Khalifa City.
All three disappeared in October after a neighbour complained that the cats had left dusty paw prints on a recently washed car.
After two months of phone calls, emails and visits to rescue centres and pest controllers sub-contracted by Abu Dhabi Municipality, Mr and Mrs Appleby are close to giving up the search.
“We have searched every night, even been to places we did not know existed in our search for the cats,” Mrs Appleby said.
"We have now started a private Facebook group, which is gaining traction, with the sole purpose of finding our boys.
“The neighbour had just moved into the property, but we only discovered the trap on October 26, out of view and adjacent to our compound wall.”
All three cats were microchipped, neutered and vaccinated.
Tadweer, the government department responsible for pest control, uses several contractors to deal with stray cats, who are usually taken in and taken to Falcon Hospital.
There they are checked for disease and, if healthy, are neutered and returned to the community where they were found.
Animal welfare volunteers said the missing pets in Khalifa City were not the only animals to be lost.
Dr Susan Aylott, an animal welfare volunteer in Abu Dhabi with the Animalia veterinary clinic, said pest controllers do not check cats' microchips before relocating them.
“We are hearing about a lot of pet cats and community cats going missing,” she said.
“We know Tadweer’s normal procedures are to take in cats and take them to Falcon Hospital.
“However, we are also aware of cats being trapped and relocated somewhere else once a complaint is made by the public.
“There are many cases we are looking into of pets going missing, even those who are microchipped, ear clipped and vaccinated.
“Authorities are responding to complaints, regardless of these animals being pets.
“These cats are paid for and well cared for, but are being treated as pests. It is not right and not in accordance with animal welfare laws.”
According to the Ministry of Climate Change and the Environment, cats are considered an alien invasive species in the UAE leading to negative environmental effects.
These include threatening sustainability of local species, threatening migratory birds and invertebrates transmitting disease and damaging aesthetics of the city due to waste.
“Tadweer ensures providing the highest levels of public safety and health for the community in Abu Dhabi, in line with international criteria and standards,” said Mohammed Al Naqbi, acting director of the pest control department at Tadweer.
“Therefore, the centre ensures following the trap-neuter-return approach as part of its services, where it monitors stray animals, including cats and dogs, and takes them to the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital upon request to receive proper care, before returning them to their initial location.
“At Tadweer, we aim to provide the best quality of life and keep our communities clean and disease-free.
“This comes as part of the centre’s continuous efforts to build an efficient integrated waste management and pest control system in Abu Dhabi."