Animal welfare groups prepare for abandoned pets during summer

Groups say that summer season is the peak time when owners leave their pets on streets

19:10 June 3, 2017

Abu Dhabi: Animal welfare groups are bracing to handle an increased number of abandoned pets as summer time begins, with animal owners leaving their pets on the street or dropping them off in front of veterinary clinics as they go on their holidays.

“From our experience, summer time still leads to a peak in surrendered pets. However, here at the Abu Dhabi Animal Shelter, the situation of abandoned pets has very much improved over the past years as their numbers are reducing,” said Dr Margit Gabriele Muller, executive director at Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital.

Missy was found outside in 2016, and was adopted by a family this year. Her thick coat would have been a severe liability in the summer months, making it difficult for her to survive.

“When we receive them, we take immediate necessary actions like neutering, vaccination and medical treatment if required. Then the pets are transferred to our Abu Dhabi Animal Shelter, which is managed by Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital … The Abu Dhabi Animal Shelter keeps these abandoned pets as long as it takes to find new homes for them. We had pets staying with us for more than a year until they found new loving families,” she added.

Rachel Kasa, who works with Feline Friends, an animal welfare group that cares for and fosters abandoned pets, said that unpreparedness was usually the main factor behind why owners ended up abandoning their pets during the summer.

“Travel schedules and summer holidays, of course, greatly impact the frequency of animal abandonment that we see. People may have good intentions, but are not informed of the cost of pet sitters or boarding over the summer months. When they book their holiday, they suddenly realise they have not budgeted enough to provide care for their pet while they are away.

“Some families are last-minute planners, which can be a huge problem if all of the boarding facilities are full up and you suddenly have nowhere for your pet to go. Staying informed and doing a little extra planning can help pet owners better take care of their pets and would reduce the numbers of animal abandonment seen at this time of year,” she added.

Sarah Bartlett, spokesperson for Animal Action UAE, a volunteering rescue animal group, explained how a lack of commitment from owners was also a big factor behind why they abandoned their pets, citing some shocking examples.

“We see people spending up to Dh10,000 on pedigree animals from pet shops then dumping them on the street because they don’t want to spend Dh600-800 on boarding costs.

Rollie was left with five other cats in a small, sealed box near some trash bins in the summer of 2016. Some workers found the box and Rollie was adopted by a family in January this year.

“After they come back [from holidays] many often go and buy another animal. It’s very unfair on the animals first and foremost, but also on the volunteer community [who look after the abandoned pets]”, she added.

“We are volunteers and we do this for love. Many of us have day jobs and spend thousands of dirhams each month on these animals, as well as sweat and tears. It is the job of a person who takes on an animal to care for it for its entire life, not to rely on strangers to step in and save their animal’s life when the owner changes their mind,” she said.

Once abandoned, the pets often suffer through both physical and mental trauma, struggling to adapt to their new environment and situation.

“It is very distressing for a pet to be abandoned by its family. These animals have come to rely on their families for not only basic care but also for love and companionship — then they are simply dumped on the street, with no idea how to survive,” Kasa said, explaining the negative side effects.

“For those pets that are able to find food and water, they still have to deal with new, terrifying challenges like cars, other animals who may not be very friendly, and the intense heat of the summer.

“Imagine a cat with long hair who has never even been outside and suddenly has to not only deal with the heat, but also get burns in her sensitive paws on the pavement just trying to find herself water or shade. It is an incredibly distressing and traumatic experience for a pet to be abandoned by its family, and the summer heat makes it even more difficult for these animals to survive,” she added.

When asked what steps could be taken in the long term to prevent pets from getting abandoned, all three agreed that education and awareness on animal welfare, and the responsibility of being a pet owner were important.

“The most important key to stop abandoning of pets is to educate the general public about animal welfare and humane treatment of animals. Education of children is especially important as they are the future generation and vital in animal welfare,” Dr Muller said.

“In this respect, we have a highly successful education programme at the Abu Dhabi Animal Shelter to educate schoolchildren and students about animal welfare and the responsibilities for pets,” she added.

“Education is the critical key to the reduction of pet dumping. We work with all our potential adopting families, UAE nationals and expatriates, to get them to understand the true cost of taking on an animal before they adopt,” said Bartlett.