Abandoned. Pets and Humanity
RESCUED: Left: Maybel was in a shocking state. Her eyes were glued shut with infection. She was paper thin, had ear mites, ringworm and intestinal worms. Her hair was very matted and she was too weak to even stand up. Right: This is Maybel, a month after the corrective eye surgery and treatment. She looks happy, playful, nourished, and can see!
What if one day you found a baby on a rubbish heap? What would you do?
Towards the end of the summer, I pulled into a large grimy parking lot surrounded by restaurants, travel agencies and home decor shops. As I dug into my bag looking for a receipt, I noticed what looked like a little black comma the size of my fist on the kerb, lying among the rubbish, just inches from the car bonnet. When I bent down to take a closer look, I realized it was a kitten. One of its lovely green eyes was crusted over with pus; in the other eye it was blind. Its white skeleton shone through the thin fur barely covering its ribs. I could feel its tiny heart racing like a frightened bird. When I poured some water in its mouth, its stiff limbs twitched as it tried desperately to raise its head. It would not last the day.
“Well goodness, it’s not a human baby!” comes the retort, relief already settling in, the shock-horror of the unthinkable starting to ebb, justifications of lower-down-the-food-chain and degrees of relativity beginning to work their complex tentacles through the brain. No, it wasn’t a human baby. But it was a living, breathing, beating life. Why is that any less significant?
Sadly, incidents like these are far from uncommon in Qatar. Dogs, cats and other animals are routinely found in dumpsters, on beaches, deserts and parking lots or chained to poles and fences even in the unbearable heat of the summer months. Gill Shurey of Cats in Qatar says they find animals in appalling conditions: abandoned, starving and thirsty, in cages among furniture in warehouses or even being thrown from car windows into moving traffic on the Corniche.
Abuse is not only physical but also emotional and psychological; some animals are so severely traumatized that they can never be successfully rehabilitated. Marguerite Cadegan of Dogs in Doha says that certain racing animals, like Saluki hounds, suffer some of the worst treatment. When these dogs become old or injured, they are dumped in the desert. Sometimes their legs are broken or they are even cruelly killed. Cadegan has adopted a rescued Saluki racing dog who had been shot and abandoned to die; shrapnel is still embedded in his legs even two years since the incident.
Signs of Hope
The government’s Trap-Neuter-Release programme for stray and feral cats has successfully spayed or neutered an estimated 45,000 cats in the past six years.
Last year, the Department of Animal Health ordered that all animals entering and leaving Qatar must be micro-chipped.
The animal trade in Qatar is not particularly kind to animals either. Breeders and sellers are known to keep animals in cramped, unhygienic, abysmal conditions, which leads to them contracting various diseases–many of which can prove fatal. There have been several cases of animals bought from the souq that have died within weeks of being brought home. Dr Paul Hensen of Qatar Veterinary Center says that these diseases are most likely to be prevalent in younger, under vaccinated animals that are taken prematurely from their mothers, because they sell more quickly and often fetch a higher price on the market due to the ‘cute’ factor.
Where are the shelters?
Though the number and visibility of grassroots foster care, adoption and animal welfare organisations in the country is growing, it is still nowhere near enough to match the scale of the issue. Qatar Animal Welfare Society (QAWS), Qatar’s oldest and largest animal rescue organisation, has an endless waiting list, and still can’t take in all the animals in need of help. “We turn animals away every day. I’d say a conservative estimate would be 5-10 animals a day,” says QAWS’ Kirsten Miller.
QAWS is searching at present for a new location to shift its menagerie of nearly 300 animals, as the lease on its current property has not been renewed. News of the move has caused some residents to consider petitioning the government to donate land for the relocation.
There is even talk of the government setting up its own animal shelter in the near future. Mahatma Gandhi once said: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” If this truly is the barometer for greatness, we’re going to have to start doing a lot better. Perhaps if we learn to respect all life from the ground up, we’ll learn, in the process, how to treat the bigger animals–each other–better too.
Bringing home a pet?
Think long and hard before you do. Here’s what the experts say.
1. Do your homework. Talk to people, read books, or get on the internet to understand what it means to keep and care for a pet.
2. Adopt, don’t buy. Don’t support the animal trade here until the laws–and law enforcement–become more stringent.
3. If you travel or relocate frequently, consider fostering animals or volunteering with an animal shelter instead of getting a pet of your own.
4. Assess your resources. Having a pet is a significant investment in terms of time, money, love and care. Don’t get one if you are lacking in one of these.
5. Ask for help. If you have questions about how to properly train, handle or care for your pet, there are numerous animal welfare organizations and veterinarians in Qatar that are only too happy to help.