Have you seen an increase in stray dogs and cats in the street? Doha News explores the reasons behind it and how you can help.
Bo’la limped towards food that is regularly put out for him and other cats at the compound. But when Sahar ElKabbash, who feeds the strays, saw him that day, she noticed that his hind leg was badly injured.
At the vet centre, Sahar was told Bo’la had a double fracture in his hip because he was run over by a car. He was also suffering from a severe gum infection that meant he was losing his teeth. The cost for surgery was QR 10,000 – an amount she could not afford.
The vet gave her three options: either she attempt to raise funds through donations, take him home and care for him through his recovery, or simply euthanise him. For Sahar, however, the latter was not an option.
Since then, she has taken the animal under her wing, ensuring to make her home as safe as possible for an injured kitten.
But Bo’la was one of the lucky ones. Most injured stray animals do not live to see recovery.
Why are we seeing strays all the time?
While Qatar has always been home to stray animals, primarily cats and dogs, the Covid-19 health crisis has exacerbated the situation. During the peak of the pandemic, animals were rampantly abandoned by families that had previously cared for them.
This was mainly due to circulating misinformation on pets contracting the novel coronavirus and infecting members of the family. However, for others, loss of jobs during the pandemic meant they could not afford to keep their pets any more.
But those are not the only reasons for the number of stray animals to increase. If feline pet owners don’t neuter or spay their pets, the animals are more prone to running away to mate, and can sometimes lose their way home.
Overflowing shelters and overwhelmed rescuers
In Qatar, private shelters designed to keep animals safe while awaiting adoption do exist, but they are not many.
Animals desperately needing shelter face a huge waiting list to join the centre. “These animals have often been abandoned by owners who leave the country or owners who simply get tired of looking after pets,” animal rescuers, QAWS told Doha News.
“The majority of the animals we get are unwanted pets found on the street. We need to end this disposable attitude towards pets. We are seeing a lot more deliberate cruelty at the moment too which is devastating,” they added.
Private shelters in Qatar are also run completely on donations from people with no help from the government. This imposes yet more burdens on rescuers who are already overwhelmed while trying to help as many animals as possible.
“We get no financial help from the government, everything comes from donations or our own pockets,” said a Qatari rescuer, who also runs the G6awaa Instagram page to shed light on the plight of stray animals in the Gulf state.
While their tasks are many, rescuers primarily work with animals that have been victims of abuse.
“There was a case where two dogs whose arms and legs were cut off. A video even circulated on social media.. We took the dogs in, treated and found homes for them,” G6awaa told Doha News.
G6awaa also spotlighted a case of a cat that was found with an arrow pierced through its skull. However, she said she “could not” make a complaint against the perpetrators, without adding more details.
“There is a law against torturing animals, but it’s just a 1,000 riyal fine, so it is not really a deterrent,” she said, noting this is a stark difference to neighbouring Saudi Arabia where perpetrators face a whopping 50,000 penalty.
“We need the government to push out more laws against animal abuse and be more supportive of animal rights,” she added.
As is expected, taking on an animal can cause financial strain for families who are forced to pay significant costs to keep their pets safe and healthy. While there is a government vet clinic, it is generally busy and primitive.
“Private vet clinics take advantage of how emotionally connected people are to their pets and demand outrageous prices,” G6awaa said. “Fracture mending is QR 8,000 and above, costs can hit QR 16,000 for other surgeries.”
Despite all this, there has been an increase in the number of people that have adopted or fostered animals during Covid-19.
“At this point, one positive is that adoption rates are higher since many Qatar residents and/or expats have found themselves unable to travel and thus have had more time to consider welcoming a pet into their homes,” QAWS told Doha News.
“For this same reason we have also found that long term animal residents who were initially fostered into homes on a temporary basis have now been adopted by their foster carers,” QAWS added.
There has also been a rise in awareness pages on social media about stray animals and animal abuse. G6awaa’s page caters specifically to Qataris.
“Westerners have lots of groups but I’m trying to raise more awareness with Arabs, which is why everything on my account is in the Qatari dialect,” she said.
This is clearly helping and pushing authorities to take more action. According to G6awaa, the Baladiya is in the process of building a new shelter for stray cats and dogs in Qatar. However, it has been downsized from seven buildings to just two due to budget cuts, she said.
“It [the shelter] can shelter 70 dogs and 240 cats only but the stray population is much bigger,” she said.
In 2021, the government started a new initiative called Rifq, or Kindness, where stray dogs are captured, vaccinated, neutered and rehabilitated before then being put up for adoption, a government official told Doha News.
“All veterinarians and animal handling teams have been trained by specialist international organisations, and all shelters operate to international animal welfare standards. Special attention is paid to ensure that no dogs are harmed or distressed during the process,” the official said in a statement from the Government’s Communications Office.
Families or individuals interested in adopting are vetted before taking the animals home and the initiative “aims to ensure that adopted dogs are not subjected to any kind of abuse by their new owner,” the statement assured.
As of now, some 203 dogs have been collected off the streets and helped through the programme. In 2020, the Baladiya’s TNR program for cats collected 5,143 cats based on 1,672 reports.
More than 3,749 were neutered, and 3,857 were vaccinated against rabies, as part of the Department’s plans to contain and combat rabies transmission to humans. During 2020, 9,734 cats received some form of treatment via the programme.
What can you do to help?
While the issue of stray animals and abuse needs a lot of top-down work, there are some small things we can do as a community to help ease the suffering of animals in Qatar.
Adopt, don’t shop: If you’re looking to bring a furry friend home, make sure you seek re-homeable animals from rescue centres. “We always tell people that by adopting an animal you are saving two animals as the animal you adopt makes space for another from the streets to be sheltered,” said QAWS.
For those who can’t commit long term through adoption, fostering is an option. This offers you the ability to help animals for a short period of time while rescue centres look for their forever homes.
Trap, Neuter, Release: TNR is a way to manage stray cat populations by humanely trapping, neutering them and getting them vaccinated before being returned to their colony.
For those who want to be a little more involved, volunteering can go a long way. Shelters are always in need of helpers to walk dogs home, or even play with the cats. If you’ve got some free time on your hands, spend it with these beautiful creatures.
Meanwhile, even donating food can ease the burden of rescue centres. If you can’t help the stray animals yourselves, donate a bag of food or put out some water for them while it’s hot outside. Every little helps!