From left: Eagle Environmental Services helps trap cats before they are moved. The cats were co-existing with construction workers in Musaffah, Abu Dhabi. Now, they have homes of their own thanks to a country-wide community effort. Image Credit: By Montserrat Martin/Gulf News Reader

Just like the native cats of the UAE — the Arabian Mau — Musaffah’s cats have been co-existing with construction workers for a long time.  So far, these Abu Dhabi cats have had an interesting relationship.  The cats would provide company to the lonely workers who live far away from their families. They would also operate as natural pest control.
Humans, in return, would provide basic food and attention to the ‘working’ cats.

Except for the non-controlled breeding, the whole experience was well-balanced and working until the announcement of the camps’ relocation to other areas, and the demolition of existing ones.

At the end of May, Friends of Animals, Dubai received a call from Siddiq Ali, an animal lover. He was providing regular food and water to many stray cats in Abu Dhabi.

He described the situation — a few weeks ago, many cats perished when the demolition of the barns began. These buildings had long provided shelters for dozens of cats.

The big-hearted workers had pooled their efforts into feeding, treating and caring for hundreds of cats over the years when they didn’t have enough money of their own.

They were devastated, fearing that their beloved companions would be killed and worse, would die slowly due to the weather condition, without food, water or shade.

With the cats’ survival instincts kicking in, some of the surviving cats ran away to remaining camps, which were unfortunately due for demolition within the following days.

Just after Ali’s call, I contacted some of the existing animal welfare groups in Abu Dhabi such as Feline Friends and Al Rahma Society. We emailed each other regularly to study how to protect and save the affected cat colony.

I suggested first sterilising all the cats, then releasing them back to the newer worker accommodations or searching for an alternative place where the cats would be safe and have a healthier life.

Eventually, the first option was not possible as the camps were demolished.
The endless phone calls, discussing all available options under such a constrained time frame, were very worrying. Then, a simple phone call to the Abu Dhabi Department of Municipal Affairs became the necessary tool to catalyse change — the cats’ had found an answer that guaranteed their future existence.

Well-organised operation

Within a couple of days, a well-organised operation took place. Everyone was at the site — Eagle Environmental Services and Feline Friends were trapping and rescuing kittens and nursing mothers, Al Rahma Society was coordinating and transporting them to Falcon Hospital to be sterilised and then released.
The whole operation was seamless — the cats’ cages were given a bar code pertaining to each cat, with the information entered in a database. A summary report form was then prepared and submitted to Falcon Hospital for documentation and records.

Within a few days, the cat colony was given a medical check-up, sterilised and released to their original location. But the biggest challenge was yet to come — the worker accommodations were now empty and food, water or facilities for shade were not available.

A fully-sterilised cat community and no place to relocate them! Who would agree to have 200 stray cats moved to their premises?
In the meantime, the people involved in the operations continued feeding and providing the cats with water on a daily basis.

Our anguish grew by the hour. The bulldozers continued roaring while demolishing the skeletons of the empty worker camps.
Again, people’s determination managed to cease the demolition, but only till the following Sunday.

During this time, animal-lovers Auttabashi and Ali spent part of their day driving around in the heat looking for a viable alternative. It arrived like a mirage in front of their eyes — a massive green area covered with trees, shade, available water and at a distance from the traffic.

After the discovery, a real marathon of talks began from one department to another.

After long hours of deliberation, linking different departments, the cats were finally granted authorisation to become the first-ever protected, sterilised feline colony, supported by the government of Abu Dhabi.

Relocating cats is never an easy task; the adjustment process period takes weeks. This particular situation was much more complicated, as the cats were strays, and over a hundred had to be adjusted to a new environment. To add to the challenge was June’s scorching heat.

However, all the right measures were taken to prevent any accidents.
With Abu Dhabi government’s structural support for the maintenance of the healthy cat colony, along with Abu Dhabi Municipality, The Centre for Waste Management in Abu Dhabi, Eagle Environmental Services, and various animal welfare groups, all collaboration was for the same reason — to make a difference.

The cat colony was finally released successfully and integrated into their new habitat.

Innovative projects such as these will perhaps influence all the emirates, helping them find new ways to eradicate the sad situation of stray cats for years to come. We are currently looking urgently for sponsors, volunteers, and anyone determined to make a difference to the lives of animals.
For more details please email us at info@friendsofanimalsdxb.com or visit our website, www.friendsofanimalsdxb.com.

Lend a helping hand

Can cats be part of urban life? The cat population keeps on expanding, but you can help.

  • Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR) programmes: A humane international mechanism used to control the population of stray cats.
  • Community efforts: Simply help sterilise one cat a month. If we control breeding, we can save them from being euthanised. Many private clinics offer concession rates to sterilise strays. Contact Friends of Animals for further details.
  • Private veterinary clinics: For the past four years, Al Barsha Veterinary Clinic in Dubai has launched a ‘Free Sterilisation Campaign’ in collaboration with various animal welfare groups and public members. They sterilised hundred of cats as part of their social corporate responsibility. The initiative was so well-received that many people joined in to help.
  • Private companies: Organisations, especially those located in industrial areas, could take part in innovative programmes. Through TNR, cats wondering around warehouses could be taken care of, offered protection, water and food four times a week. They would become ‘working cats’ for companies — contributing to pest control.
  • Construction companies: Normally, workers stay far away from their families and have limited access to social activities. Many injured animals that Friends of Animals rescued were cared for by workers, who often put money together to buy food or medicine for suffering animals. In the long run, it helps them overcome the loneliness they experience when far away from home.

Community initiative

  • The Mussaffah cats’ story was not a common practice. It happened because of the efforts of a strong-willed group of people determined to make it work. The aim in sharing the story is to convey to readers how we could all transform situations, especially when the outcome benefits the animal, the environment and you. Anyone can take up the initiative to sterilise or even start a healthy cat colony. If cats are located in private areas, always request authorisation. 
  • Start in your own street, under your building. Put up a notice in the nearest supermarket with your intentions and number, talk to people and request for help. You will be amazed by how many people feel like you do. 
  • Respect people’s wishes about not wanting to get involved.  Consider all options very carefully and contact any animal welfare groups, the Municipality or vet clinics for advice.

— The reader is the founder of Friends of Animals, Dubai

Be a citizen reporter. Tell us what is happening in your community. Write to us and send us your videos and pictures at readers@gulfnews.com.