The issue of stray and abandoned cats in the UAE is still a hot topic among animal lovers. There have been commendable efforts by local veterinary practices to neuter and spay strays, while Dubai Municipality has implemented a Dhs200 fine for those found feeding stray animals in an effort to control the growing population. Dubai’s numerous volunteer organisations, such as Feline Friends, Animal Action and Friends of Animals, do a remarkable job of dealing with both abandoned pets and strays on a daily basis – and now a new start-up has joined their ranks.
38 Smiles is named after the number of the villa where founder and cat rescuer Kay Ivanova lives – and where her journey began. After moving in with her husband three years ago, she found herself host to an army of hungry felines, used to getting a bite to eat from the previous owner.
Foolishly or not, Bulgarian expat Kay decided to continue feeding those that turned up, until one day she found a sick feline in her garden. ‘I took her to the vet, and asked what I should do. My husband is allergic to cats, so it seemed out of the question to keep them.’ The vet directed her to Friends of Animals, which suggested she bring the cat along to its next adoption day, which resulted in a successful re-homing.
Yet the pattern repeated itself numerous times over the next couple of years. ‘Rehoming the cats started to take up so much of my time, I thought I might as well make it a bit more official,’ says Kay. ‘So I set up a Facebook page first, then a website.’
To date, Kay has found homes for roughly 50 cats and dogs, and currently has 10 cats living in her home, which she keeps in certain rooms so they don’t provoke her husband’s allergy. She has a network of seven fosterers, though there are no plans to set up a shelter, and she doesn’t advertise her address in an effort to avoid people dumping unwanted pets or strays on her doorstep. ‘We make sure the cats are socialised and healthy – we have them spayed, neutered and vaccinated, then we start to advertise them.’
For people looking to adopt felines from 38 Smiles, Kay is quick to explain it’s not a one-day process. ‘It can take up to a week,’ she notes. First, applicants fill out a questionnaire, before a face-to-face meeting with the potential pet to see how they get along. There’s then a free vet check for the cat or dog so each owner knows there are no ticking health timebombs. ‘I keep in touch with people who have adopted from me, and provide all the support I can,’ she adds.
When a new animal arrives, 38 Smiles pays for all medical costs involved with getting them vaccinated, chipped and registered. When a new owner comes along, they will be asked to reimburse the organisation for the costs, but everything will have been done at a much lower rate than if the animal had been bought from a pet store. ‘Extra donations are up to individuals, but it always helps to have donations of food, bedding and, litter trays,’ Kay says, explaining that she tends to break even, though in some cases an animal may need to spend a few days in the vet’s clinic, which will cost a lot more. She doesn’t pass on this cost to new owners.
Kay also has advice for people who ‘find’ an animal. ‘If you’re kind enough to take it home, it’s only the first step,’ she explains. ‘We encourage people to keep it, foster it, until we find a home.’
If you can’t give an animal a home, you may be able to help them find one by volunteering at 38 Smiles’ second adoption day, which Kay aims to hold in January. ‘Every animal finds a home,’ she says. ‘It’s just a matter of time.’
To enquire about adopting, fostering, volunteering or donating to 38 Smiles, visit www.facebook.com/38smiles, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 050 534 6741.
Dubai’s animal groups
This group relies on fosterers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi to look after dogs while a permanent home can be found.
Lend a hand by volunteering at the fundraising book sales. If you can’t offer a permanent home, become a fosterer.
www.felinefriendsdubai.com (050 451 0058).
Give man’s best friend a loving home, or sponsor a dog or kennel. You can also now buy the 2013 fundraising calendar.
www.k9friends.com (04 887 8739).