Abu Dhabi’s feline fanatics who feed thousands of strays

There are a number of cat lovers in Abu Dhabi who devote hours of their free time to make sure the city's stray cats don’t starve.
Ghina and Hanna Saemdah, twins from Aleppo in Syria, feed stray cats outside a mosque near the Corniche. Lauren Lancaster / The National
Ghina and Hanna Saemdah, twins from Aleppo in Syria, feed stray cats outside a mosque near the Corniche. Lauren Lancaster / The National

ABU DHABI // Ever wondered who it is who feeds Abu Dhabi’s thousands of street cats?

There are four cat lovers in particular who devote hours of their free time to make sure the felines do not go hungry.

Ghina and Hana Saemdah are twins from Aleppo in Syria who both work at Francophonie French cultural organisation.

They feed about 65 cats in the mornings and evenings on the Corniche, around Khalifa Street and Khalidiyah.

“We spend about Dh100 a day on cat food,” says Ghina. “There are more stray cats this year than ever before and there are many cats now with babies.”

“Poor creatures. It’s hot and they have no water and no food, nobody feeds them outside. It’s haram really. We like them so much,” says Hana.

Lorraine Mohamed, deputy chairwoman of the Feline Friends executive committee, points out that street cats also provide a useful service to residents.

“They play an invaluable role in keeping down vermin of all types – rats, mice and cockroaches,” she says. “Without street cats, we would be overrun and pest control could not cope with the problem.”

Feline Friends often receives phone calls from a man who is possibly Abu Dhabi’s most devoted cat carer – Sidhiq Ali. The Indian was the focus of the documentary Feeding 500 by Emirati filmmaker Rafed Al Harthi.

The film tracked Ali’s commitment to feed 500 cats each day since 1995. He earns about Dh7,500 a month and spends Dh6,000 of his salary to feed birds, dogs and cats. He also helps needy people buy food and medicine.

Another Abu Dhabi resident who tirelessly works to feed the city’s growing cat population is Marion, a Dutch lady who has lived in Abu Dhabi for 40 years.

She has been feeding the cats in the car park near her apartment above Spinneys in Khalidiyah since she moved there in 1989. The trays of cat food placed at the entrance to the supermarket are her handiwork.

“It’s the worst time of year for cats,” says Marion, who declined to give her surname.

“People don’t want to spend the money on bringing them home. There are so many sad stories. And the people who dump them, you never meet.”

Her close friend, Kristi Larson, says Marion devotes her spare time and money to get the street cats spayed and neutered. “The energy this woman has is unbelievable,” she says.

Ms Larson recalls two weeks ago when Marion was called up by Spinneys security guards after a cat was dumped there. “The guard said a man in a car had stopped to ask him if he wanted the cat. He said no, and the car turned around, didn’t slow down and threw it out of the window. The guard picked the cat up and put her in the building until Marion came to collect her.

“She was the most amazing cat. The moment she came into our house, she came up and laid on my husband, then slept that night in my daughter’s bed. This was obviously a well-taken care of cat – but they just dumped her. “

The cat, who was named Diva, has since been adopted.

Marion estimates there are about 45 strays living in the area between Spinneys, Etisalat and the police station. She feeds about 90 cats every day.

“I’m in trouble with my husband if I tell you how much money I spend on cat food each week,” she says.

newsdesk@thenational.ae

Published: June 1, 2014 04:00 AM

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