Left Behind: A look into lives of the abandoned pets in Oman

01 Jul 2018
POSTED BY Alvin Thomas

As the country prepares for its annual summer vacation exodus, Y’s Alvin Thomas takes a closer look at the crisis facing those four-legged family members who get left behind as instances of animal abandonment in Oman continue to rise.

“He has a collar, but no name-tag. He was very dehydrated and starved. He hasn’t been neutered.”

These are the words that fill a post on the Facebook wall of the Omani Paws – Rescue page – another animal in need, abandoned and seeking a home. The post was created by page administrator Varsha Karnik, who also works with the Al Qurum Veterinarian Clinic.

“We found a black dog chained to the top planks of the garage of Maha 1B (PDO camp), a recently vacated house,” she goes to say in the post. “He’s very gentle and friendly. Since the house was empty, we assumed he has been abandoned and [we] brought him home. Unfortunately, we can’t keep him – would anyone be interested in adopting him?”

Scroll the group’s social media platform on any given day and you’ll see their faces peppered all over the wall –cats and dogs, their eyes staring out from the screen in fear and longing. It’s images such as these that speak to the hearts of the Omani Paws’ 6,700+ followers who regularly monitor the page.

The twist is this: Dig a bit deeper…read the captions that go along with those images and you’ll realize that these aren’t animals being showcased for appreciation’s sake. Rather, they’re scared and impoverished pets who have been failed by their owners – or hurt by the very people they co-exist with.

Varsha Karnik’s post about the abandoned dog went on to receive over 90 reactions on Facebook and, unlike many others, this animal’s story had a happy ending. The pet was in fact returned to its owner and was, in this instance, not a case of abandonment.

And while its’ was a story that ended in smiles, such is not the case for the majority of animals reported abandoned in the Sultanate by owners who have left the country or shifted homes.

These animals must fight to live another day in Oman.

In an exclusive interview with Y, Nada al Moosa, the founder of Omani Paws, a community-driven organization that aims to impart knowledge on animal welfare and take care of abandoned animals in Oman says: “We don’t have an exact number, but we see dogs with collars and [pedigreed] cats being abandoned on the streets. The people who abandon them leave with different excuses.”

“This year alone we rescued 20 breeds of cats and three German Shepherds – and that’s definitely a huge number,” she states somberly.

Only a few of these animals will be adopted by families or individuals, as Nada points out: “Unfortunately, there are nearly zero homes that are ready to adopt animals, so we send them to foster care where they’ll be taken care of until someone adopts them.”

Joanne DeSouza, an Indian expat living in Muscat, is one of those few individuals who has been able to adopt a rescue dog and fostered two others until they were re-homed safely. She weighs in: “When I wanted to have a dog in my life, I decided it would be best to open up my home by adopting one.

“I found her on Omani Paws and she’s been with me ever since. She’s like my family member, and we’re inseparable.

When asked why she opened up her home to foster two more animals, she explains: “For someone who has a pet and considers her family, it’s heartbreaking to see one that had a family and now doesn’t.

“It upsets me more when these very people leave their dogs and cats in kennels or locked in chains when they leave. I think one has to have more emotion than that towards their pet – especially if he or she has been with you for long,” she adds.

How to alleviate such instances in Oman? The answer to that, according to Nada al Moosa, is simple: Educate people.

“I think a lot of education must be done so that such situations can be avoided,” she says. “The cases we see include those of families adopting cats and dogs out of pressure from their children, and then not being able to transport them back to their home country when they leave Oman.”

It can cost pet owners anywhere between RO200 and RO1,200 to transport their pets to another country, and the paperwork can take up to four months to process.

“Because some people have to leave the country on short notice or are left with no funds, they’ll abandon their pets.

“In the end, it all comes down to becoming a responsible owner and a human being that can sympathize with the emotions and pains of another living being. Owning a pet isn’t an easy task – and people need to see if they can support all the finances of the animal before they make a commitment – or else, it’s simply best to leave the animal alone and not domesticate it,” she exclaims.

The health effects of abandonment

“A domestic animal is one that has been kept by humans for a period of time and is kept away from their stray counterparts,” states Dr. Peter Nolosco, a veterinary surgeon working with the Capital Veterinary Centre LLC in Qurum.  “It’s easy to identify a domesticated pet. The animal will most likely have a micro-chip or collar for identification.

“What we need to keep in mind is that these animals are not fit for survival in the wild or the in extreme weather conditions. We see lots of pets being abandoned in Oman; either because the caretaker is leaving the country, or [because] the pet has been diagnosed with a disease.

“A lot of people also drop these domestic animals at our doorstep and leave if they can’t take care of the pet anymore. So we work closely with animal welfare organizations such as Omani Paws and Tiger By The Tail, and also several activists who take special care of these animals.

“The domestic animals that we find in the wild are almost always in bad shape because they can’t fend for themselves. Stray cats, for instance, can fight, run, and hunt for food but these domesticated cats can’t. They’re used to eating from a food bowl.

Dr. Nolosco reveals that it’s not uncommon for his veterinary practice to receive anywhere between 10-15 abandoned animals every month.

“Some of these animals are nothing but bones,” he exclaims. “We must educate people, so they must know, for example, that animals – especially dogs can’t sweat. So their thermal regulation mechanism is weak – and that means they can die in under two days if left in the heat.

To understand their suffering, he asks us to imagine sitting in a closed car or standing outside in the sun for an hour.

All, however, is not lost, says animal welfare activist Aisha al Mahrooqi: “Today, we see a lot of Omanis and expats coming forward to neuter stray animals, provide medical treatments, and even report incidents of animal breeding and abandonment.

“This means that people are more aware of the issues we face today. One major concern that was reported was illegal animal breeding. People were – and still are – bringing in various dog and cat breeds from Europe for breeding or sale here.

“This is not legal – and people must begin to adopt animals. But adoption is also a very positive trend that we’re starting to see here in Oman,” she adds.

Illegal breeding in Oman

As reported in a previous Y investigative series, there have been instances in Oman where pets were being reported stolen and then left to die in breeding shelters within the country. The stories of the fates of these animals were tragic, and it’s an issue that is still ongoing as those abandoned animals who continue to live are still facing the effects of excessive breeding.

Dr. Nolosco explains: “There’s no doubt that this is truly evil. While these pets are already under a lot of emotional stress and pain by being separated from their owners, they’ll also be exposed to a lot of health problems.

“Dogs and cats can easily be exposed to viral infections that can be life-threatening,” he adds, before telling us about the importance of neutering one’s pets.

Neutering is the process of removing an animal’s reproductive organs so that further reproduction can’t occur. Most veterinary clinics across the Sultanate offer neutering procedures at
nominal prices.

Trap, neuter, and release for a better life

Omani Paws is one organization that works towards the TNR (Trap, Neuter, Release) strategy. While this has been known to effectively reduce the population of stray cats and dogs, the strategy also works towards preventing uterine infections and tumours that can become malignant, and also testicular cancer and prostate problems.

Nada urges the public to report cases of abandoned animals to responsible organizations, or to foster rescue animals and provide medical care for them until a new, permanent home has been found.

Dr. Nolosco also states: “I’ve been working in Oman for a long time now and have also worked in countries such as India and Saudi Arabia. But what I’ve found is that the love that people have for animals is great here – maybe more-so than what is seen in many other parts of the GCC.

“We see people offering up their support to these animals. Just look at the support that is given on social media when a photo goes up online. And with people such as Mariam al Bulushi, [a community member] taking so many cats into the shelter of her lovely home, one can only assert that the future of animal welfare in Oman is good.

With an increasing numbers of residents now found to be reporting such cases of animal abandonment to the authorities, including the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, we at Y also urge our readers to report people who breed dogs and cats illegally at homes to the Royal Oman Police (ROP).

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