1 Vinny Maddage, our designer, tells how he helped save some needy cats
How it started: Arriving in Dubai, one of the first things I noticed – cockroaches and lizards aside – was just how few animals there were. It was almost like an animal detox for me, having agonisingly left my pet dog of 15 years behind. Things, however, were due to change.
Starting a new job means extra hours and, in my first few weeks, I found myself turning up earlier and finishing later while learning the ropes. On my way back to the hotel late one Thursday night, in its dark and dingy car park I came upon a rather sad, scruffy, peculiar-looking cat, anxiously purring for attention. I found myself doing an immediate U-turn back to Spinneys and returning with some cheese, chicken and water. Probably not ideal cat food, but it did the trick. I ended up doing the same thing for the next few days until I made a discovery – and realised my shopping bag was about to become a tad heavier. Underneath a Jeep, the cat I had befriended was feeding a pair of scrawny, adorable kittens. A few metres away, two more were lying on a bin. After much (make that no) thought, I became their carer, providing them with food and company whenever I could. A fortnight later, though, and the mother had disappeared. Where to, I could only fear, but the fact she was gone meant these kittens needed help now more than ever, especially with one of them so desperately frail. As time passed, the relationship grew, almost to the extent where I’d feel guilty leaving them to get some sleep. They’d follow me to my hotel door and wait there all night until I reappeared the next morning. As pathetic as this sounds, it was heartbreaking every time. One kitten in particular (later to be named Zorro) would hang onto my shoelaces, my bag, anything to stop me leaving. I was desperate to find these kittens a home somewhere; particularly as they’d showed me so much affection.
The strangest thing was, I’d never particularly liked cats. Growing up, I had learnt to associate the creatures only with bad things: my first dog was run over chasing one and the wild birds my parents tried so hard to encourage into our garden never came. Even the water piping at my partner’s flat exploded the very day she had befriended a local black cat. And, above all, the girl my cousin should never have married was a cat lover. Needless to say, I had never regarded cats as good things. But here I was, a month into Dubai, and a converted man. It seems the warmth and very sight of these adorable furry balls hopping around is enough to open roads into even the most bitter of cynics’ hearts.
Making it happen: Asking about, I received a mixed response. Banter aplenty, some would laugh at my situation, others sympathised, a few raised their eyebrows, but one direction everyone seemed to be pointing me in was that of Feline Friends, a non-profit organisation set up by Leslie King in 1991. And so, with hope, I dropped them a line. That very evening, I received a call back from a lady called Anja who not only offered me advice for the kittens but, more importantly, put me in touch with a local fosterer called Ingelore. And so we set up a meeting that evening to attempt to rescue the kittens, get them checked out by a vet and find them a way out of the car park. Ingelore was truly remarkable and it was so refreshing to come across such a spirited and generous individual. Who knows how bleak the situation would be here for these stray cats without people like her. The kittens, at least for now, were saved. Ingelore kept them overnight at her flat, fed them with some proper grub and the next morning we took them to the vets for a long overdue examination.
Sadly, four became three as the weakest kitten passed away. To make matters worse, the vet revealed one of the remaining three kittens, Pippo, had been soldiering a broken hip. Sending a small, speculative email around the office asking if anyone could spare a few dirhams towards the hip operation produced an overwhelming response as it was forwarded on and on, well beyond these office walls; I had never expected such help nor could I have anticipated such kindness from strangers. I was inundated with emails and donations I could put towards his operation. Helen from Feline Friends kindly pulled all the other strings to bring Pippo back to health.
The future: These kittens have a rosy future but, sadly, it’s not a happy story for many other stray cats in Dubai. Some people believe these sweet creatures, forced to wander the streets, are pests, leading to horrifying incidents of cats being hounded, thrown off bridges or kicked about. Needless to say, life on the streets for cats in Dubai is a cruel one. If animals aren’t suffering enough from the unforgiving heat and dry conditions, then it’s almost certain they’d suffer from sheer neglect. I can only urge others to get involved with Feline Friends to help prevent such a life, whether it be through fundraising, adopting or volunteering. Trust me, even saving three can make the world of difference.
What does saving kittens have to do with Ramadan?
Charity is integral to Islam. It forms one of the religion’s five pillars, alongside fasting, prayer, faith and pilgrimage. So, as the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, Ramadan is inevitably a time for giving – and failure to be suitably charitable is a punishable offence. For Muslims, there are two types of charity: the voluntary and the mandatory, or sadaqah and zakat. Zakat is the one you can be punished for if you don’t comply (according to the second edition of the Encyclopedia of Islam, the prayers of those who do not pay zakat will not be accepted), and is the compulsory donation of 2.5 per cent of one’s annual wealth to the poor and the needy.
But it’s sadaqah that will save the kittens, among others – this is voluntary charity. Whereas zakat is mostly intended to stay within the Islamic community, sadaqah can help the world at large. And, in the spirit of the Holy Month, we’d suggest sadaqah is something we can all get involved with. How? From an organisation that matches volunteers with charities, to local initiatives to help labourers, the next few pages offer a few ideas to get you started. But there’s really no end of opportunities to make a difference in Dubai – keep an eye on our Community section for more.
Want to adopt? These friendly faces need a home
It’s not just kittens that need saving. Sadly there are many older cats who have been abandoned or dumped on the streets of Dubai that need adopting. Here are just a few that could do with some love. For any more information about the cats featured here, or if you’d like to help in any way, please get in touch with Feline Friends on 050 451 0058 or see www.felinefriendsdubai.com. While Feline Friends is a bunch of wonderful people doing an inspiring job, they are still desperately reliant upon the kindness and help of others to make Dubai a more cat-friendly place, so do get in touch...
More causes you can help
These local causes all need you now (plus those suffering after the floods in Pakistan.
2 K9 Friends: ‘These animals rely on humans to look after them, and humans keep letting them down,’ says Dorothy Wanless, a volunteer with homegrown group K9 Friends, which carries out the same work as Feline Friends, only for moggies’ doggy counterparts. K9 desperately needs more volunteers to foster dogs over summer, as there are fewer regular fosterers around.
04 885 8031 / 050 274 1949; www.k9friends.com.
3 Shoe Box Appeal: Until September 30, the Radisson Blu Dubai Media City (04 366 9111) is collecting shoe boxes filled with supplies to donate to Dubai’s labourers. You can pick up a box from the hotel any time, which comes with a list of items to fill it with, such as T-shirts, shaving cream, toothbrushes and shampoo. Providing labourers with essentials means they can send more money home to support their families.
4 Palestine Children’s Relief Fund
This charity brings child victims of the fighting in Palestine to Dubai for free medical treatment. Many of them amputees, they are not only rehabilitated, but encouraged to enjoy life in Dubai during their stay. ‘Volunteers can help in many ways, like providing children with age-appropriate activities such as piano lessons, horse-riding or scuba diving,’ says PCRF’s Rama Chakaki. 050 559 5804; www.pcrf.net
5 Mission to Seafarers: ‘Seafarers bring us over 99 per cent of everything we have here in Dubai,’ says Alexi Trenouth, who works long days fundraising for the hundreds of men who spend months isolated at sea off the coast of Fujairah, waiting to bring our necessities and luxuries to port. The mission collects DVDs and magazines to supply free to the men, and has a ‘buy a phone card for a seafarer’ scheme online, putting them in touch with their families.
04 398 4918; www.angelappeal.com.
6 The Dhaka Project: Emirates flight attendant Maria Conceicao launched The Dhaka Project in 2005 after witnessing first-hand the city’s slums when she flew there as cabin crew. The charity is going from strength to strength, having opened a school for more than 600 children, and is now working to build the third world’s first adult job centre. Maria is also looking for Dubai families to host slum children on vacation, and donations are always welcome. 050 418 3270
7 Emirates Marine Environmental Group: Emirati Ali Saqar Al Suweidi set up EMEG to honour his father, a pearl diver, who he says taught him respect for the sea. Together with protecting endangered marine life such as turtles and whale sharks, the initiative carries out regular harbour and beach clean-ups, and welcomes help from volunteers. EMEG also offers free activities including mangrove-planting and star-gazing, so it’s well worth getting involved.
04 363 0582; www.emeg.ae.
8 Al Noor Training Centre for Children with Special Needs: Al Noor is working hard to support Dubai’s special needs community beyond the classroom with its vocational training programme, where students are taught practical skills and how to be job-ready. A store selling crafts made by the students, Smiles n’ Stuff, is now open at the centre in Al Barsha, and monetary donations to keep the centre running are always welcome.
04 340 4844; www.alnoorspneeds.ae.
This homegrown charity runs art workshops for special needs children in Dubai and Palestinian and Iraqi refugees in Jordan. It gives the kids an opportunity to express themselves through art, which volunteer-liaison Nicola Lee says allows them to ‘create artwork they can be proud of [and] helps them with their self confidence’. START is looking for artists and art students who can give two to four weeks of their time to the scheme in Jordan. Cash donations also help buy supplies.
04 323 3434; firstname.lastname@example.org.
10 Volunteer in Dubai
If it’s your time that you’d like to donate, VID might be the easiest way to do it. The organisation, which provides its services free of charge, matches volunteers to charities, acting as a middleman to ensure both parties get what they need. ‘Even if you only want to volunteer once a year, we’re happy to see you,’ says founder Lola Lopez.
See www.volunteerindubai.com for the latest opportunities available.
Is giving easy?
Strict rules about fundraising in Dubai has made it so that many noteworthy local causes are not actually licensed by the government, which means they are not allowed to collect donations, or purport to be a ‘charity’. The reason, the department tells us, is that, in the past, people claiming to be raising funds for charity have absconded with the money. Everyone we’ve listed here are bona fide do-gooders, whether licensed or not, but if you’re planning on setting up your own worthy cause or doing a spot of fundraising, we strongly advise you look into the legality of it first.