The number of stray cats neutered during an Abu Dhabi population containment programme has doubled in the past two years.
More than 6,500 cats have been taken off the streets as part of the TNR (trapped, neutered and returned) initiative operated by Tadweer, the emirate's waste management authority, so far this year - a sharp rise on the 3,206 captured in 2016 and part of a growing trend.
The latest figures have prompted calls for a round-the-clock neutering campaign to be launched, while owners are being urged to take greater responsibility for pets too often abandoned by people going on holiday or leaving the country.
The numbers trapped and neutered this year has surpassed the past years with 5,166 cats covered last year, 3,206 in 2016 and 4,347 in 2015.
The amount of stray dogs trapped and neutered has also increased this year, 1,703 so far in 2018 compared to 1,430 last year, 1,203 in 2016 and 1,532 in 2015.
Experts estimate that there are about 100,000 stray cats in the UAE capital alone.
Mohamed Al Marzouqi, director of the pest control department at the government entity Tadweer, said officials are careful not to release cats into the same community if they have received complaints due to fear that the animals may be harmed.
The strays are taken to the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital for sterilisation. The programme covers the entire emirate of Abu Dhabi and not just the city and also includes the municipalities of Al Dhafra and Al Ain.
Stray dogs trapped are not released back into the community after being neutered but placed for adoption.
“Ninety-five per cent of the cats collected for vaccination will be returned to the same place but if a person has complained then we don’t send the cats back near those villas because we don’t want it to be hurt,” said Mr Al Marzouqi.
“Some people say they are afraid because the cats are too large in number or that the animals damage their cars, so we we release the cats to another community nearby.
He said there needs to be more care shown for stray animals.
“We need to improve the sense of empathy for these animals. Volunteers are also helping to feed and look after strays.”
The TNR programme also seeks to protect residents from any diseases the strays may have contracted, Mr Al Marzouqi said.
He appealed to residents who left the country on vacation or for good not to abandon the animals.
“Sometimes people feed the cats in their homes for months and then just let them out on the streets when they go on vacation. These animals can get a lot of diseases, get dehydrated and sick.
“This is the problem we are facing. People who are planning to adopt cats and dogs should continue to take good care of the animals or not adopt them in the first place.”
There have been previously reported cases of pets abandoned in parks, bus stops, in communities or abused and tossed out of cars.
Laws relating to animal cruelty have tightened in recent years with fines of between Dh5,000 to Dh20,000 oimposed, with one-year imprisonment for anyone caught abusing, illegally hunting, buying or selling animals.
The responsibility of catching, taking strays to the hospital for sterilisation and releasing them back into the community was transferred from the municipalities to Tadweer in 2009.
Abu Dhabi is the only emirate with a focussed TNR programme spread across all areas.
In other emirates, officials send out vehicles to trap cats in response to residents’ complaints.
Stray cats were among the top three complaints made to the Dubai Municipality last year followed by obstruction of sewage networks and waste removal.
Mahin Bahrami, founder of the Red Paw Foundation, has called for a round-the-clock neutering programme to be rolled out for a year to contain the stray population.
“You need TNR 24/7 daily for one year to see the difference, the rate now is too slow,” she said.
“Everyone is doing this in their own capacity but there are areas we don’t reach. We need vets to do TNR on all cats owned or not, because even if your pet cat spends time outdoors, it can make others pregnant,” she said.
“To put a dent in the population, TNR must be constant for a year. And we can do this if we work together,” she said.
The foundation has reached out to the Dubai Municipality to work with civic officials in the city to ensure all animals are neutered.
Volunteer groups take strays to the hospital for sterilization and provide daily food for the animals. The groups don’t accept donations due to strict UAE laws but helpers share the cost of the food and in some cases for spraying.
Neutering and spraying of a stray male and female cat can cost between Dh170 to Dh250 and volunteers have been chipping in to pay for sterilisation of strays for several years.