Stray cat programme aims to transform Abu Dhabi's animal welfare

Initiative expected to improve care for thousands of community cats roaming the capital

Volunteers aim to conduct a three-phase approach of trap, neuter and return, as well as hold educational workshops and a series of pet adoption days. Khushnum Bhandari / The National
Powered by automated translation

A new animal welfare programme launched in Abu Dhabi promises renewed hope of improved care for thousands of stray cats that roam the desert areas of the city.

Prompted by an investigation by Abu Dhabi's Department of Municipalities and Transport into why more than 150 cats were dumped in Al Falah in October, volunteers have stepped up support for strays.

The Community Animal Care Programme calls on volunteers to sign up online to help at feeding stations at designated areas across the emirate.

Community-driven projects like the Ma’an-funded animal care programme are much-needed right now
Dr Rachel Shaw, Animal Welfare Abu Dhabi

The project has won financial support from Ma’an, the authority of social contribution in the capital that focuses on community programmes and volunteering programmes.

David Appleby was one of the rescuers involved in co-ordinating the recovery of cats in Al Falah and hopes the programme can be extended nationwide.

“Although this is Abu Dhabi-focused, hopefully this initiative can spread elsewhere in the UAE,” said Mr Appleby, who founded pet tracking site

“Many animals are going in for treatments and more volunteers want to help, so it is hugely positive.

“We are covering most areas – from the port to the outskirts of Abu Dhabi.

“There has been a complete change in direction in animal welfare in Abu Dhabi. It is leading the way.”

Call to volunteer

Volunteers and vets estimate there are tens of thousands of community cats roaming freely across Abu Dhabi, with vast areas being combed by volunteers to collect and treat strays.

The focus is in Al Rawdah, Khalifa City, Bahia and Mafraq, Al Raha, Rabdan and Abu Dhabi Gate City, Mina Zayed and Al Reem.

Under the Community Animal Care Programme, volunteers aim to conduct a three-phase approach of trap, neuter and return (TNR), as well as hold educational workshops and a series of pet adoption days.

Volunteers can sign up at the official government online portal at, or via the mobile app.

The four-month programme began in December 2023 and will be operated by Microchipped FZ, as part of Ma'an's Community Volunteering Activation Programme (CVAP).

“Running under the 'We Volunteer' initiative, the project aligns with Ma'an's overarching mission to nurture an engaged and collaborative community in Abu Dhabi,” said Maysa Alnuwais, Ma'an's community engagement and volunteering division director.

“By investing in initiatives such as this, Ma'an aims to promote a culture of social responsibility and empower volunteers to actively participate in programmes that deliver sustainable solutions aimed at addressing pressing social priorities in the capital.”

Two non-profit websites are already up and running to help pet owners track their animals,, and another where food can be gifted to top up feeding stations,

Mr Appleby and his wife Jacqueline also plan to establish the Animal Respite Centre to focus on the treatment and rehabilitation of sick and stray animals.

“The programme is designed to relieve the financial burden of genuine rescuers to help stabilise stray animal colonies,” said Mr Appleby.

“We are working towards a no-cost veterinary facility and premises which will provide free treatment for sick and stray animals of the UAE.

“We can only achieve this by working with the community volunteers, where rescuers come to us for help.”

The project aims to reduce cat numbers over time, as neutered cats can no longer reproduce. Neutering a large number of cats would also reduce nuisance behaviour, as fighting and noise associated with mating stops almost entirely after sterilisation.

What's more, the foul odour caused by unaltered males marking their territory also disappears and cats are no longer driven to mate, so roam less and become less visible.

Treated cats are also healthier and less likely to spread feline diseases, while rodent control in communities is maintained by the cats' continued presence.

Hardship fund

Dr Rachel Shaw, a UK trained vet who has lived in Abu Dhabi for 18 years, is chief executive of Animal Welfare Abu Dhabi and working alongside community groups.

While welcoming the Ma'an funding, she says the financial implications on private donors can be crippling and this has resulted in leading rescue shelters facing closure in the past.

“Community-driven projects like the Ma’an-funded animal care programme are much-needed right now,” she said.

“There are multiple other communities managing and helping community cats and dogs, all funded from their own pockets.

“Currently the system is not keeping up with demand.”

Under the UAE National Invasive Species Strategy and Action Plan 2022-2026, TNR is only used on loose cats that are captured, sterilised and vaccinated before being returned to the area in which they were found.

“People in Abu Dhabi care about animals,” said Dr Shaw.

“They want to help, they will physically step up and give their time and get an animal the help it needs but, in the process, are being financially crippled.

“A hardship fund for strays has been proposed, and government funded vet clinics for community animals would also be great.

“The UAE government has a great funded vet care for farm livestock. It would be wonderful to see the same support for all other animals.”

Updated: February 15, 2024, 9:24 AM