Why rescuing a UAE street dog was the best decision of my life

Frida's journey from an Ajman building site to my loving home

Farah Andrews taking Frida home for the first time on the day she was adopted in September 2020. Farah Andrews / The National
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It’s been 18 months since I brought Frida home, the two of us wide-eyed as I drove us away from a dog shelter in Al Warsan industrial village unsure exactly what kind of dog owner I was going to be, but certain I was going to give it my very best shot.

As is the case for owners of most stray dogs, I have few concrete facts about Frida’s early days. Vets told me she was between one and two years old when she was found living on a building site in Ajman; she had a ripped ear, was underweight, shy and had definitely had one, if not two, litters of puppies.

Fast forward a year and a half, she is a confident and happy pup, who grew accustomed to sleeping on the sofa impressively quickly, charms strangers when they walk past her and has every family member wrapped around her little paws.

So, it feels fitting that on the week of Valentine’s Day, I am here writing a love letter to my little dog, and rescue dogs in general. I have no hesitation in saying that adopting her was the best decision of my life.

Last week, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, took over the care of Grace, a saluki-cross who had been shot with an air gun. In January, Bubbles Pet Rescue group shared images of Grace on social media, detailing the way she had been mistreated, but they had a happy ending for the pup when the Dubai Crown Prince visited.

Sheikh Hamdan shared a video of meeting Grace on his Instagram Story. "Come here ... you are a good girl," he says as he greets her in a veterinary clinic kennel. She then starts walking and wagging her tail and he says: "You're happy. You're in safe hands now."

The Crown Prince is one of countless international royals with a well-documented affection for dogs. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is known for her collection of corgis, but the family also has a history of rescuing pooches. Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall is a patron of London’s Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and has re-homed two Jack Russell terriers through the charity, Beth and Bluebell; and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, had rescue dogs, Guy and Bogart, before she married into the royal family. Japan’s Princess Aiko considers her mix-breed dog Yuri as “a younger sister and close friend”, according to an aide.

Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in 2016, was also a vocal dog lover. His favourite pet was said to be Thong Daeng, a puppy who was sent to the palace after the king took an interest in the treatment of Thailand’s street dogs. He loved the dog so much he wrote a biography for her, describing her as "a common dog who is uncommon".

I have not quite got to the stage where I am writing Frida’s biography, but give me a few years and I am sure I will have enough material to give it a try.

Before adopting a dog, I never underestimated the way it would change my life. I knew it was a serious responsibility – in the sense of both time and money. I did, however, underestimate how much I would want my life to change. She is the first consideration when it comes to any travel plans, I can safely say I am more of a homebody than ever before and, when I do go out, I’m happier in a dog-friendly cafe (Social Company in Zabeel House The Greens is a personal favourite, and one of the few places in Dubai that allows dogs inside).

In the past few years, the UAE has become a much more dog-friendly country. Sure, you still can’t walk your pet around Dubai Marina’s Marina Walk, but communities around the Emirates have built dog parks, countless cafes and restaurants allow dogs to sit outside, hotels have started to accommodate pets and Ras Al Khaimah has branded itself as the dog-friendly emirate with its new Ras Al-K9 campaign, which lists the hotels, restaurants, hikes, beaches and parks where dogs are welcome.

In Ras Al Khaimah alone, the Hilton Ras Al Khaimah Beach Resort, the BM Beach Resort, Banan Beach Resort and Bear Grylls Explorers Camp all welcome four-legged guests, as does the JA Hatta Fort Hotel in Dubai, which I recently checked out with Frida and her best pal Pepsi, who both adapted to the room service life at great speed.

As I write this, there are countless dogs in the UAE looking for homes. Rescue groups and shelters, including K9 Friends, Bubbles Pet Rescue and Fujairah’s Animals and Us, all work to keep homeless dogs safe, promoting animal welfare across the country. The UAQ Stray Dogs Centre cares for 780 dogs, 15 cats and four donkeys in its shelter houses, made possible by the centre’s staff of 16 and about 100 volunteers, Amirah William, founder of the centre, confirmed. A total of 632 dogs were adopted from the UAQ Stray Dogs Centre last year, she says.

A conversation I had with my very pragmatic dad in the weeks after I adopted Frida went a little bit like this: “You have just made moving back to the UK a lot more expensive,” he said with a sigh. I reminded him that I have no immediate plans to move anywhere and can start a Frida fund to cover any eventual moving costs. “Have you thought about vet costs?” was the next question, to which I reminded him I had considered my canine finances. He then played with her for a few minutes and said, “I suppose it doesn’t matter, you have saved a little soul.”

There is no doubt that if I hadn’t adopted Frida, she would have charmed the next person who came in to meet her – she has the eyes – but I will always be glad that I got there first.

K9 Friends and UAQ Stray Dogs Centre dogs who are currently up for adoption:

Updated: February 18, 2022, 6:11 PM