Nora Shackleford is a Veterinary Nurse, ISFM Cat Advocate and Fear Free Certified Professional. She works as Clinical Operations Manager at the German Veterinary Clinic in Abu Dhabi. These are her views about the current situation in the United Arab Emirates and her positivity about the future for unowned cats there.
“The United Arab Emirates – a haven for expatriates and their families. Consistently rated amongst the world’s safest countries, with world class health care, convenience, and a high quality of life for residents. A contemporary Islamic society lives in unity with the socially aspirational expatriate community, it’s a popular choice to live and work for over 10 million residents. A tremendously progressive culture that raises the bar internationally in terms of humanitarian effort, healthcare, and religious tolerance; yet one fraction of inhabitants is struggling for their basic needs….unowned cats.”
The United Arab Emirates
“Positioned in the east of the Arabian Peninsula, the UAE consists of seven emirates. 2023 will celebrate its 52nd year as a formal union. The population has grown from just over 344,000 to a whooping 10.2 million residents in just five decades, over 80% are foreign nationals with diverse religious and cultural beliefs. 200 nations are represented here and there is shared national identity of progression and acceptance. The accelerated social and economic growth here and many liberal reforms position the country as a secure, business-friendly, and hospitable environment in a region known for instability. The wide array of backgrounds must be appreciated to understand the divergence of views concerning the cat population. Even within the veterinary industry, professionals come from all corners of the globe with different approaches and experience.
The 1980’s saw veterinary establishments opening across the emirates to accommodate the pet owning population. Historically, Emirati’s have held a cherished bond with falcons, camels and especially horses. Anecdotally, many expatriates quickly become pet owners after arrival, many perhaps to establish a sense of companionship away from home.”
Why so many cats?
“Recent estimates suggest the country is home to 100,000 – 150,000 unowned cats.
“Kitten Season” is every season in the UAE. With temperatures averaging between 20-40 degrees all year, and a consistent environment of dry sunny days, queens essentially reproduce year-round. With a thirty-fold increase in the human population, coupled with a fast modernization of infrastructure, and abundance of resources, the cat population will grow representatively. The transient nature of the population accompanied by the perceived expense and exertion in relocating pets (and recent airline embargos) add to the unowned population.
Threefold are the troubling matters for the unowned cat population.
- Designer breeds are in high demand and just as susceptible to displacement as their more native kin – Scottish folds, extremely brachycephalic breeds, Sphynx’s and a plethora of assorted long hair breeds are found not just in private practice on a daily basis… but these adapted-for-home-living cats are regularly found flung into an inbetweener position unequipped for the elements. Cats severely matted to a point of immobility, suffering from heat stroke and malnutrition are unfortunately not an uncommon sight on the streets, trying to keep up with the indigenous Arabian Maus lifestyle out of necessity. Abandonment issues associated with periods of economic changes, most recently covid, generate spikes of high unowned cat population growth.
- Inappropriate redistribution. Private companies are tasked with the capture of cat’s for TNR. Frustratingly, the system is fraught with a lack of education and there are many reports of cats not being returned to their territory, but instead released in areas unknown to them, and with questionable resources.
- Unsuitably rehomed cats. Arabian Maus, who make up most of the unowned cat population are majestic, intelligent highly motivated cats with extremely evolved credentials to live freely. Now accepted as an individual feline breed, these distinctive cats have been a part of the Arabian Peninsula’s fauna for over 1,000 years. They are perfectly adapted to their environment and, as a breed, are also quite contented living self-reliantly and semi-independently from humans. However, their often situational, and perceived friendliness is cue to cat lovers that they desire cohabitation with us and for many homes that means coexisting with several other cats, in imposed limited space, disregarding their solitary nature. Countless Arabian Maus are drawn into the foster and rehoming cycle everyday by the immensely caring community of cat concerned citizens, looking to offer them a better quality of life. Often regarded as headstrong, highly active, and vocal, they commonly struggle to find homes, likely due to how they present in rehoming centres and veterinary clinics to prospective adopters. Arabian Maus live months and even years in boarding facilities, in what inevitably can become a very welfare negative situation. Those who are successful frequently become destructive, stressed, and demonstrate various behavioural issues as a direct result of living a life of containment. The many wonderful cat concerned citizens pour their private funds into several overseas rehoming projects and even more into treating widespread conditions commonly observed here such as Feline panleukopenia, Feline infectious peritonitis and upper respiratory disease.
At present, there is a lack of solidity between stakeholders on how to resolve these issues.
The good news
The impassioned cat concerned community have done an admirable job over the past decade in inspiring businesses to face up to their corporate and ethical responsibility and increase provisions for TNR’s and feeding stations.
Many private veterinary clinics offer TNR days and ongoing assistance. There is an upturn in veterinary supply companies sponsoring such events and an appetite from the public to financially support.
Through nationwide education on the principles of Cat Friendly Homing and TNR programmes, considering and advocating for both the physical and mental health of cats, together the community can enhance how they help.
The knowledge and application of iCatCare’s Cat Lifestyle Spectrum can immediately start shifting the balance to a more manageable population. The vision of compassion shared by Emiratis, beside the ambitious nature of the expatriate residents promise that there is an opportunity to form a common vision to develop the management of unowned cats. There is a tangible desire for a joining of hands across all stakeholders. A commonality of purpose with the public, rescuers, veterinary professionals, and authorities will be key to making change.”