Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 2 December 2020


Coronavirus: UAE animal shelters see rise in pet abandonment amid Covid-19 fears

Despite there being no evidence to suggest humans can catch the virus from their pets, animals are being increasingly surrendered

Amirah William is hopeful her 160 rescued dogs will get help from authorities. Jeffrey E Biteng/The National
Amirah William is hopeful her 160 rescued dogs will get help from authorities. Jeffrey E Biteng/The National

Animal shelters in the UAE have reported an increase in the number of surrendered pets because their owners are afraid they could catch Covid-19 from them.

Shelters say misinformed owners have been giving up their pets for the past two months but the issue was exacerbated this week after a tiger at Bronx Zoo in New York tested positive for the virus.

The wild animals - including six other tigers and lions - were believed to have been infected by a zoo employee who had not yet begun displaying symptoms.

The news prompted the World Health Organisation to clarify, though there is a possibility for transmission to animals from humans through close contact, further evidence is needed to understand if pets can spread the disease.

"Based on current evidence, human to human transmission remains the main driver," Who said.

Amirah William, owner and manager of Stray Dogs Centre UAQ, said they have taken in more than 30 dogs over the past two months.

Fear is greater than education, unfortunately

Amirah William, Stray Dogs Centre UAQ

“This past week we have taken in eight dogs as a direct result of people believing they can catch Covid-19 from them,” she said.

“Panic has ensued. Two weeks ago, 15 were surrendered.”

Ms William said she tried to explain that the pets posed no threat but the owners were unwilling to listen.

“Fear is greater than education, unfortunately,” she said.

“There is no scientific evidence that dogs can pass on Covid-19. However, there are common-sense practices that keep you and your dog safe.”

She suggested social distancing, not allowing people to pet your dog and using an F10 solution to disinfect the dog’s paws after a walk.

The UAE government has advised against walking dogs outdoors at all and, this week, the British Veterinary Association also recommended that pets remain indoors to avoid infected passersby from stroking them and potentially depositing the virus onto their fur.

Ms William said dog owners need to get creative to keep their pet entertained.

“Paws Pals, Dog Walk and several others offer online isolation exercises to keep your dog entertained and expending energy,” she said.

“Make use of underground building parking to play fetch ... and set up a toilet station for your dog on the balcony or in the bathroom by using artificial grass with pee pads or newspaper underneath.”

An unexpected positive outcome of the outbreak, however, has been an increase in fosters because from more people are working from home.

“We have had 127 dogs out to foster and 17 adoptions. That has given us space to take dogs in need," she said.

“Please do not abandon or dump your pets. Contact us if you need support or advice.”

Some of the 160 dogs rescued from the streets all over the country by Amirah William with her SOS rescue team. Leffrey E Biteng / The National 
Rescued dogs at Stray Dogs Centre UAQ. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Michelle Francis, founder of Animals and Us Welfare in Fujairah, said they too have taken more pets in lately as a result of misleading messages on social media.

“Bad news does travel faster than good news in the social media world,” said Ms Francis, “The numbers increased after pet owners read social media reports.”

She said pet abandonment has been a longstanding issue.

“Some people make all kinds of excuses not to keep a pet.

“We find dogs with microchips abandoned most of them in terrible conditions while some owners drop their animals outside our gate in carton boxes,” she said.

Para UAE in Dubai has been fielding calls from nervous owners asking how to protect their animals against the virus.

“We had a recent adopter contacting us asking if the dog was vaccinated against corona,” said co-founder Sarah Al Zaaki.

The animal shelter went from taking on three to four dogs a week to that amount per day.

“We were given 18 cats in less than a week, not to mention the 22 requests to surrender cats in one day,” said Ms Al Zaaki.

She said dogs were being dumped on the streets rather than directly surrendered.

“Lack of education, awareness, as well as fear from the media, people losing their jobs and salary cuts; everyone is in panic and it’s common for people to let go of their pets in such times.

“We are never prepared for such situations,” she said.

How to keep your dog entertained while staying at home

Most dogs require a lot of physical stimulation, which can be difficult to maintain when social distancing and staying at home.

Ms Al Zaaki had the following suggestions:

Laying out patches of fake grass on a balcony, if you have one.

Read more: What to do with your dog when you can't go for a walk: potty training, games and treats

“There are many other ways to stimulate your pet mentally, which can tire them out. There are several activities that can keep both you and your pet entertained and can strengthen your bond with your pet. Get creative and have fun, make this break worthwhile.”

She said feeding your dog their meals with puzzle toys - including giving them frozen treats in a kong - will keep them entertained and distracted.

“Teach your dog those basic commands you’ve been meaning to. There are so many things you can do to keep them entertained. We know it does not replace the walk, but we need to keep everyone safe in order to continue our work.”

If all else fails, bring your pet into an animal shelter temporarily until this period passes.

Updated: April 10, 2020 12:48 PM

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