Tourism and business can benefit from positive animal welfare programmes, according to volunteers helping treat an unprecedented number of stray cats this summer.
They say that cutting the number of stray cats and being seen to have a positive animal welfare programme attracts new residents, businesses and animal-loving tourists.
Feeding and health programmes are being established across the UAE by volunteers on behalf of animal welfare groups to humanely deal with the growing problem of strays.
Those working for Animal Welfare Abu Dhabi are dealing with daily reports of abandoned cats, many of whom go on to multiply when left in the hands of municipality pest controllers who often just relocate them.
Trap, neuter and release programmes have proved a huge success in controlling rampant populations in areas such as Lulu Island, with welfare workers claiming it is having a positive impact on attracting business and tourism.
“We were running a programme at Marasy [apartment complex] to sterilise stray cats there and International Capital Trading [the developer] were happy with the work we have been doing,” said Dr Susan Aylott, a lead volunteer with AWAD.
“They now want us to cover 40 of their properties in Abu Dhabi, so it shows that animal welfare is good for business, as it attracts new tenants and tourists.
“I know of at least one family visiting who specifically stayed at the Novotel hotel because of its animal welfare programme.”
AWAD runs a feeding and sterilisation programme of stray cats around the hotels and is now planning to move into New York University and Saadiyat Golf Club and beach residences to run similar schemes.
“It is good for the image of Abu Dhabi and will help improve its reputation on animal welfare issues globally,” Dr Aylott added.
“We know tourists are staying at hotels affiliated with AWAD, so it is good for business.”
French tourist Atmane Smati said she specifically chose a hotel in Abu Dhabi for its positive record with animal welfare.
“Before our last trip to the Emirates three weeks ago, I looked on the internet if there were associations that helped animals and I found Animal Welfare Abu Dhabi,” she said. "We stay in hotels and we see often that cats are abused. It is for this reason that we decided to stay at the Novotel Abu Dhabi Gate because we wanted to see what was being done by the hotel for cats and because we wanted this hotel to know that we chose it for this reason."
Manjul Abhishek, marketing officer at International Capital Trading, said using animal welfare specialists to help with the problem of strays had been a popular move with tenants.
“Operationally, it was becoming a challenge as no one was looking after the stray cats so they were becoming a menace,” he said.
“From a social aspect, it gave us an opportunity to process the situation without throwing the cats out of our properties.
“Without AWAD, we would have had to use the municipality pest control to get rid of them.”
The partnership has developed into a corporate social responsibility opportunity, and the company is now considering rolling it out across other properties.
ICT owns commercial and residential properties across Abu Dhabi, including malls. They have almost 20 residential buildings and a host of commercial properties around the capital.
“We’ve had some amazing reviews and feedback from our tenants,” Mr Abhishek added.
“It shows ICT is investing time and money into this programme. We have received positive Facebook comments and pictures sent to us - it has been overwhelming.”
The perennial problem of stray cats has become a nationwide issue.
Welfare volunteers in Dubai are facing a similar problem in the tourist hotspot Deira fish market, near the Gold Souk.
The area has become plagued by stray cats, many of whom are starving and in urgent need of medical treatment.
Dr Manal Al Mansoori, director of the Yanni animal welfare group, is appealing to Dubai Municipality to conduct a programme similar to the one that has been such a success in the capital.
“The big worry is the fish market will be demolished at the end of the month, as it has moved, and the surrounding areas are just markets,” said the Emirati, who fears the cat colony there will be killed during the demolition.
“Tourists and residents need to see more governmental efforts towards showing how animal friendly the UAE environment is.
“We have a great animal protection law, yet awareness signs are not well displayed.
“Many hotels in Dubai are hiring pest control companies to set traps for cats; no one knows what their fate is.”