Animal welfare activists have called for stronger penalties against a Sharjah market selling pets in deplorable conditions.
Their remarks come just days after a video of an overheated cat was widely shared online, shocking residents and activists who filed complaints with the emirate’s municipality.
The treatment of animals at the pet market is a long-standing issue for activists who have called for its closure for years due to the animals’ poor living conditions.
“Fines need to be higher,” Gaelin Gray, a committee member for Bin Kitty Collective - the largest animal welfare group in the UAE.
“It is just about profit. People do not know that animals are suffering from poor health and they are not treated right,” she said.
Last Saturday, two Sharjah residents, Steven Stejlles and his wife Khadijah Alamoradi, visited the pet market and saw animals kept in crowded cages in rooms with no air conditioning.
“The animals at the market are distressed. Some of the animals we spotted were suffocating in cages,” the 29-year-old said.
Ms Alamoradi filmed a long-haired cat laying on its side, heat-stricken and heavily panting, and posted the video on the Bin Kitty Collective’s Facebook.
In the post, Ms Alamoradi described the condition of the animals at the market as “terrible”.
The post attracted hundreds of comments with many saying they would lodge an official complaint with Sharjah Municipality.
The following day, Mr Stejlles and his wife returned to the market where they found municipality workers inspecting shops.
“Air conditioners were turned on in all shops. The situation was quite strange as the market was not exactly the same way it was the day before,” he said.
The couple searched for the cat they filmed the day before and saw it had been moved to its own carrier cage. The shop owner offered them the cat for Dh500.
“I informed him that a member of the Bin Kitty Collective group complained and we saw that the cat was dying,” Mr Stejlles said.
The shop owner told him that municipality inspectors had visited his shop and fined him Dh3,000. The man said the fine must have been in response to the complaints made, though the municipality did not confirm this.
“The shop owner said he is feeding the animals, providing them with water and the only thing he done wrong was not turning on the air conditioner,” said Mr Stejlles.
In December 2016, Federal Law 18 - which fines individuals found guilty of abusing or illegally hunting, buying or selling animals up to Dh200,000 - was issued. The law also penalises offenders with up to a year in prison.
The law was issued after a string of animal welfare abuses were exposed on social media.
Mr Stejlles said the shop owner told him his colleagues were terrified and that many of the animals were inspected by municipality vets. He and his wife adopted the cat which he says had been abused.
“The cat’s whiskers were cut; it’s hair became matted as it was not brushed or cut for two or three months. The cat smelled so bad. It must have been sleeping in its urine. This is the state of animals in all the market,” he said.
“Animals are not being treated like animals [at the Sharjah pet market]. They are being treated as a product to be sold.
“At the end of the day, the pet market is a business for many. Shop owners at the market mistreat animals due to financial reasons. They think that they make money by switching off the air conditioner and cutting cost on food. When the municipality fines them, it makes them think that there are consequences if they mistreat those animals,” he said.
“I suggest municipality inspectors carry out unexpected visits.”
Ms Gray applauded the municipalities efforts to clamp down on the animal cruelty but said the market needed to be monitored more frequently.
An official from Sharjah Municipality said an investigation into the video taken is under way to determine the shop at fault.
“Inspections are being conducted regularly and vets hired by the municipality are constantly checking the health conditions of animals,” she said.