Confessions of a Dubai animal-lover

Lock up your pets: serial cat-cuddler Holly Sands is off the leash

The Knowledge

‘OhmygoshsocutecanIstrokehim?’ I ask breathlessly, half frantic with excitement, my eyes fixed on the slobbering, four-legged ball of knotted fur next to me in the lift. His owner eyes me warily, not quite sure how to address my obvious mania. ‘Hello!’ I smile goofily at what looks to be a dog, all crossed-eyed, yappy and confused. Just before I throw myself to my knees to play, however, a hand grabs me by the arm and jerks me out into the corridor. A wave of common sense returns, and I look up at my friend/keeper sheepishly.

Admittedly I can get a little manic around animals, but it’s not my fault. I’ve always loved them, but in my family having them as pets has never really been possible (unless you count Sploosh, my most beloved goldfish, who gave up the ghost in 2008 after putting in a good nine years on my mum’s kitchen counter). Growing up, my sister was chronically allergic to cats, while my dad – quite unforgivably – hates dogs.

In Dubai, every time the elevator doors open in apartment blocks, I wait, full of hope and anticipation, for a furry face to peer out at me. I’m almost bereft on occasions where it doesn’t. I sometimes go to the nearest pet shop and stare through the window just to help myself get over it.

Other incidents set my expectations impossibly high. One morning after a particularly big night out (with my particularly nauseous friend John in tow), I took a paddleboard out at Umm Suqeim beach. As I sat on my board, marvelling at poor old John’s increasingly green pallor, a turtle popped its head above water. I would have toppled backwards if I hadn’t lurched forward, jumping up and hopping madly from foot to foot, disregarding the resulting waves I sent crashing over my by now gurgling friend. Since then, every turtle-free trip to the beach has been a horrendous blow.

Fortunately (or not, for those who happen to be minding me), I never seem to go a day without bumping – often literally – into a creature that sets my inner animal-loving lunatic alight. Running around the lakes
in The Springs after dark, swarms of bats dive across my path, swooping with a swish past my ears, and I take out my headphones to listen to them. ‘Isn’t it amazing?’ I cry to my running buddy, as he darts off yelping in the opposite direction, hands clasped firmly over his ears.

Of course, it doesn’t really matter when I’m among friends. The real trials come when I’m meeting new people – or worse, at work. Only last week, on a visit to a new farm, I had to call upon every speck of willpower to stop myself running off and seizing a flock of bright yellow ducklings for a cuddle in front of the property manager. But ultimately, if you can’t beat your inner mania, you just have to embrace it. I hear Dubai Safari (the Dubai Zoo reincarnated in a more spacious fashion) opens at the end of this year – hopefully they’ll save me a comfy enclosure.
Holly Sands is our animal-mad Body & Mind editor. Unless you want to stop while she cuddles your pet for half an hour, we advise walking them elsewhere.

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