Dubai: The stay-at-home stint in the UAE, implemented as a precautionary measure against the spread of COVID-19, has had an unlikely spin-off: an uptake in pet adoptions by residents.
Pet adoption centres in the UAE, which have recorded a sharp rise in the number of fosters and adoptions in the past few weeks, told Gulf News that the pandemic seems to have sprung to life a dormant love for pets among residents, who were either too pre-occupied, busy or tired to take care of a pet earlier.
Amirah Williams, founder of the Stray Dogs Centre UAQ at Umm Al Quwain, said, “Our centre has seen as many as 160 fosters and 35 adoptions in three weeks, which is somewhat of a record for us. Normally, we do around 40 fosters and 15-20 adoptions in a month.”
Dubai-based Mira Ross, founder of SMURO, a pet welfare organisation, said, “We were pleasantly surprised to see the sudden spurt in dog adoptions during this period. We were able to rehome 14 doggies in less than two weeks, as against an average of two in a month at other times.”
Why the sudden spurt?
The animal shelters attribute the increase to many factors.
According to Williams, “When people started working from home, they realised they had a lot more time on their hands, so they began to foster and adopt pets. Interestingly, many of those who initially fostered the pets now want to adopt them as they have fallen in love with the dogs. I would be surprised if we get 20 out of the 160 dogs back. Similarly, eight of the 35 dogs that were adopted were taken by our own staff who have been with us since 2015.”
Ross said, “These are extraordinary circumstances when people have time to reflect, make lifestyle changes. Bringing home a dog and creating a new family is one way of dealing with the situation. It is also a way out for a few who may have been fighting loneliness, depression or anxiety.”
So who are these new 'pet parents’?
The new ‘pet parents’ come from different nationalities and are spread across the emirates. And it doesn’t matter whether they live in villas or apartments – as animal lovers will tell you, there is always room for a pet.
Among the breeds they’ve picked up are German Shepherds, Maltese, Senior English Bulldogs, Labrador, Huskies and Havanese dogs. There are many cross-breeds too.
All these dogs happen to be rescues too.
But with movement restrictions in place during the stay-at-home period, how did these pets reach their new homes?
“The residents came from different emirates, including Abu Dhabi. They took special move permits to collect the dogs from our partner vets,” said Ross, adding that pet owners could also walk the dogs for a few minutes around their residences.
‘It was love at first sight’
Swamy and Bhargavi, an Indian couple that moved to Dubai earlier this year, can’t stop talking about their new pet Vincent.
“We had been following SMURO on Instagram for a long time before we decided to take the plunge and message them for available puppers to bring one home. Vincent was love at first sight. Though we had prior experience with dogs, adopting a dog in a different country made us very anxious,” said Swamy.
“Ross calmed us down and helped us in the transition to becoming dog parents. The adoption process was also very smooth and stress free. Amid the corona pandemic restrictions, we realised that Vincent wasn’t just great company, but also the best decision we’ve ever made. We’re forever thankful to UAE adoption for bringing this goofball into our lives and thereby changing us a little as people.”
‘The best thing that happened to us’
The Saxenas – Sunil, Gagori and Sanya - are another family who can't get over their new “fur babies”.
“Our fur babies – Zoey Saxena, a Labrador mix and Leo Saxena, a German Shepherd - are the best thing that happened to us. They don’t give us just unconditional love, but also emotional and psychological strength. Caring for pet provides us a sense of purpose and fulfillment. We feel we helped ourselves by adopting them, instead of they needing a shelter. They are so part of our life now,” said Gagori Saxena.
‘Just the right time for a pet’
Another resident, who brought home a new family member Monty, said, “I decided after much thought that now would be the right time for me to adopt a puppy as I have the time to dedicate to training and looking after him. I adopted my new little family member Monty from SMURO over a week ago and I cannot express how much joy, happiness and companionship he has brought into my life already in these current difficult, lonely and stressful circumstances.”
The new dog parents said the adoption process is very smooth in the UAE. While the adoption itself is free, those who rehome the dogs get to pay for their vaccinations and other medical requirements.
“As Monty’s mum said, “the rescue organisation was very helpful and supportive right from the beginning of Monty’s adoption, especially during the restrictions. They frequently contact us to check on our wellbeing and it’s fun to share new photos of Monty with them to show his development. I would certainly recommend pet adoption, but only if you feel you are ready and in the right situation for the commitment of caring and loving an animal for their entire lifetime.”
The psychological benefits
Shree Nair of PetMe, organiser of UAE Pet Festivals, said, “From what rescue organisations are telling me, quite a few of those who adopted have been single people. There are many mental health benefits of owning a pet and this has been proven by scientific studies.”
He said pets, especially dogs, go a long way in helping people fight loneliness, stress, depression and anxiety – all of which may have come to the fore as people cope with the pandemic.
He said the selfless love and companionship that dogs offer changes people forever.
As Williams concluded, “The pandemic has had a positive spin too.”