Dog owners fear their pets are being poisoned after a series of animal deaths.
Vets are now urging residents to keep dogs on a leash and to stop them from eating anything off the ground.
Ruby Ramprasad, 37, is one of a number of people who believe their pets were poisoned.
It has been two weeks since her golden retriever died but she still fills up his water bowl every morning.
“We do not have kids so he was like our child,” said the Indian expatriate, choking with tears. “He was with us all the time. It is sort of difficult now that we do not have him around.”
Rusty was a healthy young dog, two years old in September, so his death was a shock.
On Friday morning two weeks ago, Mrs Ramprasad and her husband took him for an early morning walk in the desert near Al Qudra Road. Within hours their pet had suffered an agonising and prolonged death.
The couple had been taking Rusty to the secluded area for 18 months because it was open enough to let him off his leash.
As they walked beside a dune next to the tarmac road, they spotted what looked like camping litter – empty juice bottles, a bone and a small piece of bread. They tried to prevent their dog from chewing on them but were not successful.
Within minutes, Rusty was suffering violent seizures.
Before reaching the City Vet Clinic in Dubai, the dog’s tongue had turned blue and he had a fever, running a temperature of 45°C.
“It was a fight for seven hours to try to save the dog,” said the vet, Dr Kathleen Leguin.
The severity of Rusty’s symptoms – seizures, muscle contractions and foaming at the mouth – led Dr Leguin to believe the death was caused by poisoning.
Calls to colleagues told her of at least 15 other cases of dogs visiting the area then suffering vomiting and diarrhoea.
Dr Leguin suspects strychnine poison was used. Even a tiny dose of strychnine can kill a large animal. Another cause could be metaldahyde, used in slug pellets, which has a taste dogs love.
Katie Dayman, operations manager at Doggies Palace, a dog training centre, said she had heard of five dogs from Arabian Ranches dying from suspected poisonings recently.
“It is definitely a toxin entering their body,” she said. “It is a long, drawn-out death, unfortunately. They really suffer a lot.”
Dr Leguin and Ms Dayman both cautioned dog owners to keep their pets on a leash and make sure they do not eat anything off the ground, but they advised against making dogs wear muzzles.
Sick animals should be taken to a vet as soon as possible and no attempts should be made to make the dog regurgitate what it has ingested.
Animal-welfare groups said the deaths may be part of a bigger conspiracy against pets.
Kylie Mohseni, founding member of the Bin Kitty Collective, said there had been an increase in unexplained animal deaths in her neighbourhood in the Green Community.
“It is really disturbing for me,” she said, warning that children could also be at risk of accidentally ingesting poisonous substances.
Lesley Muncey, chairperson of Feline Friends Dubai, said that while some animals were poisoned deliberately, more died from improper pesticide disposal and poor pest-control practices.
Substances such as air-conditioning coolant and even some plants such as lilies can be very poisonous to cats, she said.
In an effort to shed more light on the deaths, the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory in Dubai has offered to carry out free post-mortem exams on animals that die in suspicious circumstances.
For Mrs Ramprasad, nothing can be a substitute for Rusty, but if she can find out the cause of his death she will be granted peace of mind.
She called on authorities to create a small, fenced park where dog owners can let their animals run free in a controlled environment.
“It will be safe for the animals and for the people.”