Meet the team helping find new homes for the UAE's abandoned animals
With more abandoned animals in need of permanent homes and medical treatment than ever, Sharjah Cat & Dog Shelter (SCADS) has reported that this summer has been its most challenging year to date.
Emma Cresswell, the shelter’s director, has been with the organisation since it started in 2010. A passionate animal lover, Cresswell re-trained to become a vet and has previously run her own boarding kennels. She has seen hundreds of animals come through the shelter’s doors and the past few months have proved particularly difficult for the organisation. ‘I think part of it is that people travel and leave over the summer. Also, when it’s hot, people change their minds about wanting to have animals in their house, so it’s an accumulation of all of these things,’ she says.
Small organisations that adopt animals can also come into problems, Cresswell says, which has further increased the shelter’s numbers. ‘Sometimes placements don’t work out and those animals seem to be coming to us,’ she says. ‘I think a lot of people also know where we are and we’ve had people drive from as far as Abu Dhabi to dump their animal on us.’
Cresswell and her team have up to 25 cats and dogs admitted into the shelter every day. It currently has 120 cats and dogs residing in its care, but with a capacity for 40 cats and 40 dogs, resources are already over-stretched. ‘The number of animals we receive on a daily basis is astronomical. A lot of people purchase animals here and it’s considered an item, a thing, it’s not considered as a life. Then, sadly, when animals get to one or two years old, they’re not wanted any more and they end up at the shelter. A lot of people say to us, “When I bought this it was small, now it’s big and I want an exchange!” It doesn’t work like that.’
SCADS runs an adoption programme where anyone who can offer a safe and caring home for an animal can register to become a permanent owner. The team at SCADS carefully assess the suitability of potential pet parents before releasing the animal into an adopter’s care. They encourage people to come in and meet the animals, and build a bond prior to adopting. ‘The best thing to do is to come along and visit us and spend some time with the animals. See which ones are best for your environment, and which suits your lifestyle better,’ advises Cresswell. Adopters should also be over 18 with valid ID and the shelter asks for a donation of Dhs400 for a mixed breed and Dhs800 for purebreeds, which covers the cost of vaccinations and microchipping. Cresswell explains that currently only about five animals a day are being adopted through the summer, as demand for pets dwindles.
The shelter supplies all the animal’s needs until a suitable adoptive home is found, but pets left at the shelter can only remain there for a limited time.
SCADS works with the wider community to help manage cat numbers beyond the shelter, and runs a Trap Neuter Return scheme so that the number of stray cats in the community can be humanely controlled. Trained staff carefully trap the cats and bring them to the clinic at the shelter to be spayed and neutered. They are also vaccinated and microchipped and then returned to the neighbourhood they were found in. SCADS also works with local animal carers known as Outdoor Care Givers. These volunteers keep watch of local cat colonies, often feeding them, monitoring their heath and communicating with the shelter if there are any concerns.
The operation is run with a core team of ten staff, plus the help of up to 50 volunteers per week who come to the shelter and help to exercise the dogs, and groom, feed and clean the animals. A service that proves invaluable to the shelter and its residents. ‘We are short-staffed,’ says Cresswell. ‘Sadly, there are times when the vets and I are answering the phones while we’re doing surgery, but at least there is a shelter here and we can help where we can.’
Cresswell says one of the key challenges they face is education. ‘We want to go into schools and teach youngsters about animal welfare. You know it starts when they’re small and we can teach kids how to look after animals and hopefully that will carry through to the rest of their lives. Education and awareness is key.’
The shelter, at its core, provides a sanctuary for homeless and mistreated animals and while its volunteer programme is on pause until after summer, Creswell says there are still other ways the community can help. ‘We’re always in need of puppy and kitten food and foster homes for our animals, which would be a huge help. We just want to educate people so that they look after their pets and so they’re not seen as a disposable item.’ To enquire about adoptions or volunteering at SCADS, email firstname.lastname@example.org. www.scads.ae (06 545 3985).