Spencer, a German shepherd, had been abandoned in an empty villa in Dubai with one dead lung, an enlarged heart, bent legs and severe pneumonia when Amanda Stevens, an Indian chef and cake designer, found him. “He had been kept in a tiny cage by his owners — presumably left to die,” she says.

Abandoned pets are hardly a new phenomenon in the UAE, but rescue centres reported a rise in the number of pets left behind this summer. Stevens works with a small group of five to screen and home rescued pets. She has adopted eight dogs, who were either street dogs or dumped. “Our main priority are the animals and we will make sure each one of them is given a chance,” she says.

Artist Mel Stones, 30, part of the volunteer group Animal Action UAE, says she is inundated with calls in the summer from people who want to give up their animals as they are travelling and haven’t made plans to get their pets looked after while they’re away.

“Sometimes they don’t want to pay the boarding fees,” Stones says. She herself has adopted four dogs: two salukis from Dubai, a mixed breed from Romania and a chihuahua cross-breed from the UK.

On its Facebook page, Animal Action announced in March that it was not accepting any more pets on account of the large numbers dumped over the season. “We don’t want to be stuck during the summer with 90 plus dogs and no shelter whilst everyone is away and kennels are fully booked,” the post says.

Many centres are struggling to accommodate and feed animals that have been dumped. “The heartache of seeing pets abandoned, choking on vet bills, and then the almost desperate wait or search for a suitable foster home, takes its toll on me and my team,” says rescuer Lisa Chew, a Malaysian national resident in the UAE. In one year, Chew and her friends have adopted 56 cats, seven dogs and two rabbits.

Love at first sniff

However, adopting a pet is a huge responsibility that many people are apprehensive about taking up. Irish banker Eoin Mullally wanted to home an abandoned pet in Dubai but wasn’t sure he could commit time and resources. But on a visit to Jumeirah Village Circle’s Wonder Pets, a store that rehouses rescued pets, Mullally saw 15 dogs in need of a home.

As soon as he entered the store, Sandy, a mix between a stray and a saluki, walked over to him and did not leave his side. “I decided to foster Sandy for two weeks to see how it worked out,” Mullally says. “When the time was up, there was no way I could give him back.”

He says most pets are hard work initially, especially puppies that may need toilet training. “Once you get into a routine they learn what they need to do and also know their boundaries.”

Rescuers point to a lack of awareness. Summers are often also the period when expatriates return to their home countries. In many cases, they are unable or unwilling to take their pets with them. “Abandoning pets is also due to lack of education on pet care,” says Stevens. “People look at them as things or accessories rather than as part of the family.”

Stevens says many people leave their pets behind when they realise the costs of taking them abroad. “When they look to adopt from us this is something we discuss in advance,” she says, “so when the time comes they are not bewildered.”

Rescuers are also doing their bit to educate communities. Chew encourages children to volunteer in caring for abandoned pets. These young residents can learn everything from pet care to community stray care as well as the symptoms of common animal diseases. “It is important to teach kids how to love, respect and care for animals, and in turn they will grow up to become responsible adults with a deep-rooted connection to their pets,” she says.


K9 Friends
The UAE’s oldest dog shelter is a non-profit, volunteer-run organisation that rescues and re-homes abandoned canines.
04 887 8739; K9friends.com

Re-homes socialised, trained and healthy cats and dogs who’ve perhaps been abandoned.
056 357 6029; Rakawc.com

Stray Dogs Centre UAQ
Aims for a healthy community by humanely addressing the stray animal population.

The Middle East Animal Foundation creates public awareness on the importance of animal welfare, helping to prevent the cruelty, abuse, and illegal trade of rare and domestic animals.

Abu Dhabi Animal Shelter
This government-established shelter aims to be a role model for animal welfare on a national, regional and global level.