UAE animal shelter brimming with hundreds of dogs as soaring summer heat sees sharp rise in number of strays

The Animals and Us shelter in Fujairah has 380 dogs and goes through 82kg of dry food each day

The old adage "never work with animals or children" is lost on UAE resident Michelle Francis.

Fifteen years ago she threw caution to the wind and has ended up working with both.

The Indian resident teaches at a private school in Fujairah and in 2006 founded Animals and Us, a non-profit animal welfare group.

Down a gravel road behind a small industrial area in the eastern emirate, the 2,200-square metre shelter currently houses 380 dogs – most of which were strays found wandering the streets.

Each day, they go through 82 kilograms of dry food and 200 tins of wet food donated by members of the community and volunteers.

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Each day I wake up at 2.30am and feed stray animals, head to the shelter to see my dogs, then head to work at the school

"I began feeding strays in the area about 17 years ago," Ms Francis told The National.

“I used to see dogs and cats roaming the streets and roads and I would think, ‘Why have their owners let them out alone?'

“It was only when a local shopkeeper told me they were strays that I realised they were all abandoned.”

Each day starts at 2.30am

From that point, Ms Francis began her daily routine of feeding the animals.

After a few years, and with just Dh6,000 ($1,633) in her pocket, she rented an "industrial warehouse with no roof" and started the process of turning it into a "safe haven" for the dogs.

Over the years, Ms Francis says the number of animals taken in at the shelter has increased dramatically.

She has likened it to a "conveyer belt", with the summer months among the busiest, as many families abandon their pets when relocating back home.

Currently, 62 dogs are in foster homes but they take in new arrivals almost daily – more than 120 so far this year.

“When I started the shelter my friends told me my husband would leave me,” the mother-of-two said, referring to her hectic schedule.

"Each day I wake up at 2.30am and feed stray animals, head to the shelter to see my dogs, then head to work at the school.

The hectic schedule extends into the weekend.

“On Fridays I still wake up at 2.30am but I get to have a one-hour nap at 6am and then again at 1.30pm.

"This is a lifestyle, but when I am with the animals I am at peace. And my husband, well, he is still with me – he helps so much."

Pandemic pushed shelter to brink

Last year, the charity faced closure as dwindling financial backing, soaring vet bills and mounting rent left Ms Francis unable to cover her costs.

While she managed to pay some of her annual Dh60,000 rent, each month the bills keep coming.

She also has to make a three-hour round trip to the Noble Veterinary Clinic in Dubai "nearly every other day" with dogs that need medical care.

Dog shelters fill up as summer heat rises and rescuers take in more strays. Tour of the dogs helter run by Animals and Us in Fujairah along with Founder Michelle Francis on June 13 th, 2021.
Antonie Robertson / The National.
Reporter: Kelly Clarke for National.

Mixed-breed dogs get left behind

Ms Francis said the majority are mixed-breed desert dogs, as they are “the hardest to foster or adopt”.

She said most people want "small dogs, pretty dogs".

Heartbreakingly, many of the dogs that come to the shelter are fitted with microchips, which means they were once pets.

Licensed by Fujairah Municipality, Animals and Us relies heavily on support from community volunteers who help rescue dogs, donate food and work to re-home them.

Ms Francis said the municipality has been "very supportive over the years" and she works closely with the animal welfare department.

A home for the abandoned

Ms Francis has pumped thousands of dirhams of her own money into the shelter, but said she could not think of anything worse than seeing a dog without food, love or a roof over its head.

Volunteers help with rent, water and electricity costs, but at times she said "it is hard to keep on top of bills".

Inside the main warehouse there are 14 pens with an indoor shelter and small area for the dogs to run around.

Dog shelters fill up as summer heat rises and rescuers take in more strays. Tour of the dogs helter run by Animals and Us in Fujairah along with Founder Michelle Francis on June 13 th, 2021.
Antonie Robertson / The National.
Reporter: Kelly Clarke for National.

Industrial air conditioners are positioned in front of each pen, as temperatures often reach the mid 40s during June, July and August.

Outside, there are additional interlocking kennels and air-conditioned huts where the puppies are kept.

“I have just one full-time employee, Daniel, and he is an angel, he is the person who keeps the place running,” she said.

“Then there are the volunteers, Fiona, Lin, Gillian, Himani, Somya, Lauren and Ira, without them it wouldn’t be possible. They are amazing people.

“If I am being truly honest, I think many people have no sense. That is why we are in this situation."

She said their rescue numbers have increased dramatically over the years, as some owners have made excuses and chosen to dump their pets out of convenience.

Members of the public looking to foster or adopt can visit the website and fill out an application.

They can also message on the dedicated pages on Facebook and Instagram

“There is a certain responsibility that comes with taking care of animals, so I urge people who are thinking about getting a pet to think hard," Ms Francis said.

“I am not a superhuman, I am a simple teacher, but if I can do one small thing like this to help, so can others.”

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