Residents who abandon their pets may now suffer legal consequences under new regulations announced by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment on Wednesday.
An executive regulations comprising of nine articles outlining the responsibilities of animal owners and the health and technical standards of animal facilities was released, with failure to follow the regulations punishable by law.
The legal amendments detail pet ownership obligations, stating animals should not be abandoned under any circumstances, and says that any act considered as animal cruelty could carry a fine or jail sentence.
“The UAE is strongly committed to animal welfare, which holds significant value in our Islamic beliefs and culture,” said Saif Mohammed Al Shara, assistant undersecretary for the Food Diversity Sector at MOCCAE.
“Our role is to develop a legislative framework for animal protection and biodiversity preservation in line with global animal welfare standards.”
Susan Aylott, founder of Animal Welfare Abu Dhabi, said abandoning animals should be classified as animal abuse and prosecuted in the same manner.
“We have had a lot of new cases recently concerning animal welfare issues,” she said.
“There needs to be proper action and enforcement on these new standards so people are made accountable.
“A licensing body needs to be established and put in place to complement these new regulations.
Ms Aylott also said that there needs to be more awareness of what to do if you become aware of someone mistreating an animal.
“Residents need to know how they can report abandonment and abuse of animals safely, so it is acknowledged and followed up on," she said.
“All these practises need to be transparent so we know the topic is being taken seriously.”
A ministry circular also offers new regulatory standards on animal nutrition and guidelines for loading, transporting, and unloading animals.
Restaurant owner Lisa Knight, who has lived in Dubai for more than 10 years and volunteers to help abandoned cats, said the law is a positive step, as long as it is effectively enforced.
“Stray cats have only become problematic in Dubai because of irresponsible owners, particularly in Barsha, where I lived for nine years,” she said.
“Volunteers do as much as we can to try to help with trap, neuter, release programmes, but it is never enough.”
Amendments to Federal Law No. 16 of 2007 on animal welfare and Federal Law No. 18 of 2016 will also allow prosecution of the overwork of animals used on farms and in industry.
Animal owners are considered in violation of the law if they neglect to follow the rules of humane slaughter, or if they use animals in a way that goes against their nature in art and entertainment performances, in pranks or in staged animal fights.
The law has banned administering animals with growth hormones, steroids or other illegal additives.
Electroshock devices such as cattle prods have also now been banned, as well as the use of sharp tools to handle animals.
Any housing containers must also be safe, sterile and adequate.
Sarah Alzaki, founder of the Protection of Animal Rights Association in the UAE, said pets should be recorded on an Emirates ID card to monitor animal ownership.
“This is a good starting point, but It needs work as it is very vague,” she said.
“Is it going to be 100 per cent compulsory that every pet is registered and micro-chipped, and if they are not, will the owner be fined?
“We are in the right place, but we have to act further on animal welfare, so we know where animals are and who they belong to.
Ms Alzaki said that more education is needed to show people how to care for healthy pets as "they don’t come with a manual".
Animal rights campaigners have called for a crackdown on illegally selling animals on social media.
They have also backed financial penalties for irresponsible pet owners to include the cost of vaccinating, boarding and feeding animals until a new home is found.