Oman’s population of feral and stray animals is still on the rise – and it’s up to us to find a humane community-based solution. Y investigates whether the root of overpopulation is the lack of basic TNR (trap-neuter/spay-release) programs and if fostering stray animals is the way forward.
The sincere stare of an animal can convey a thousand words.
Perhaps it’s sincerity that we see as Julie – a little kitten – looks at us with her eyes wide open as we pass by her on an unlit street in Azaiba near the post office.
She can’t be more than a few months old and can barely stand on her own feet, purring as she scrambles for warmth at our feet on a cool night here in Muscat.
Perhaps it’s not pity that she needs – it’s a home and a loving family that can take care of her while she’s nursed to health with food that isn’t crumbs dropped by passers-by and water that isn’t leaky residue from the garbage bin she sleeps under.
Her mother is nowhere to be seen, and its evident her fate lies in the hands of people who take pity on strays like her and cars stopping as she hurtles from one side of the road to another in search of food.
We’ve since housed her in a safer part of a building and have given her a home to live in along with fresh food and water.
But there remains a clowder of some 25 stray cats in the neighbourhood that need a home (among other facilities for their upkeep), and the numbers have only been growing – aside from those whose fates are faced under the dreaded tyres of cars screaming past at speed.
And these felines are only a few among a larger group of stray animals that reside in the back alleys and areas surrounding garbage bins, relying on a constant stream of waste food for their sustenance.
Our investigation reveals that these include cats, dogs, and even birds – and the numbers are truly staggering. While official statistics of stray animals in Oman aren’t revealed, according to a 2016 World Health Organization study on the global spread of rabies, there are over 500 million dogs and some 200 million cats that don’t have a home worldwide.
But there are solutions to this longstanding problem – some of which are humane, while others that aren’t. Either way, in an earlier interview with Nada al Moosa, the founder of Omani Paws – an animal welfare community with over 8,400 members – we learn that Muscat’s feral problem require an immediate solution.
She says: “We’ve always advocated the TNR (trap-neuter-release) program. What it aims to do is control the stray population that would normally be rapidly growing over time, and it also gives us time to find homes for animals that really don’t have a place to go.”
As per the Alley Cat Allies, an organisation based out of UK, the TNR program is believed to be a more humane approach to addressing community cat and dog populations. It does this by stopping the animal’s breeding cycle.
This program includes spaying, which removes the ovaries and uterus of a female pet, while neutering involves a procedure to remove the testicles of a male dog or cat. Its aim is to ‘improve the co-existence between outdoor cats and dogs and humans in our shared environment’ and can help the well-being of these animals.
Dr. Peter Nolosco, a veterinary surgeon working with the Capital Veterinary Centre LLC in Qurum sheds light on the topic. He says: “Aside from all the benefits that you normally see and hear about TNR, it has some additional health benefits too.
“For instance, spaying or neutering can help prevent many infections and even breast tumours that can be malignant or cancerous. This can increase their life-spans and possibly even help them lead a long and healthy life.”
Add to this list of stray cats and dogs the collared pets and [pedigreed] cats and you’ll realise that there’s a worrying situation of overpopulation on our hands.
Nada 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.”
Last year [in 2018] alone, Omani Paws rescued 20 breeds of cats and three German shepherds – a huge number. Sadly, as she points out, only a few of these animals will be adopted by families or individuals.
Samiksha Bose, an animal rights activist based in Oman is all for TNR too. She says: “The positives of the TNR program are aplenty and there’s no denying that it’s a great initiative to control the overpopulation of these animals.
“If this is advocated and implemented across Oman, the burden on the system to take drastic alternatives that are heartbreaking will reduce greatly. Every animal has the right to live without fearing for its life or seeing another one of its own taken away from it.”
While this may seem like a win-win situation for everyone, we come across its greatest shortcoming: cost.
Currently, those residing in Oman can spend as much as RO25 to RO35 to neuter cats and RO45 to RO65 for dogs.
Samiksha adds: “One thing is certain. Neutering, while being effective, is still quite an expensive process. But, a real animal lover will tell you that it’s worth the cost. Just the thought of saving another life is enough to have you shelling out money to assist the program.
“This will be a great start. The next step would be rehabilitating all these animals. We must have the right transition between neutering, release, and rehabilitation; and by the end, our intention must be to create an eco-sphere where each animal has a home.”
In pursuit of this, community members from groups such as Omani Paws, Muscat Dog Adoption, and The Wave Rescue all pitch in to aid the TNR program. For instance, earlier this month, the Muscat Dog Adoption community raised RO1,500 for the welfare of dogs in the country.
Meanwhile, Moet, a blind cat from Oman who was rescued but lost her eyesight due to neglect, and her parents are now helping to raise funds to support the cause. With their goals set on the RO4,800 mark, they may be far from their hopes. But, the duo have already raised some RO520 (as of October 14, 2019) in the name of TNR.
The solution to this problem seems simple enough; get feral animals spayed or neutered. But, even amid reason, there remains a small faction of the public that remain against the TNR program.
One expat resident, who wishes to remain unidentified, is among those who doesn’t believe in it, citing it ‘inhumane’ and ‘against the will of nature.’
In an interview with Y, he tells us: “I am against the TNR campaign solely because it isn’t a natural process. It goes against what was intended, and that can cause an imbalance in the animal kingdom.
“Imagine going around spaying or neutering cats and dogs, and coming to a phase where we’d have a shortage of animals. The cat population in Oman helps keep the rodent problem down and I feel it’s important to have them in our communities.”
Even though his concerns are those raised across the globe by anti-TNR communities, there’s a growing belief that controlling the population will help the welfare of both the animals and the people that live together in one region.
Hassan Ali Shaban, a media professional and an animal welfare activist, is among those who strongly support the program, citing: “You can go around saying that the TNR program is unnatural. But let me ask you this: what’s natural about creating large buildings and constructing roads in areas where these poor animals live?
“There’s nothing natural about doing all that. You can make your big villas, drive your cars at high speeds, and throw your trash in areas that are normally where these poor dogs and cats reside.
“Then how can you expect these animals to take care of themselves in situations they’re not accustomed to? That’s just not fair. So, we’re only right in taking the step to spay or neuter these feral animals to at least control the population.”
Inadvertently, the program has also plugged a great scam: illegal breeding.
In a sting operation in 2016, Y had uncovered instances of breeders nabbing pets from homes for the purposes of breeding. Sadly, the fate of many of these animals are unknown till date and those that were found were exposed to health problems from overbreeding.
Thankfully, we learn that illegal breeding isn’t as prevalent as it once was, even if it still exists behind closed doors, with several breeders arrested by the Royal Oman Police (ROP).
Our trip to Barka – an area that was once known for its illegal breeding activities – in search of pet breeders is met with no results. And the handful of pet shops we stumble upon fail to deliver us any intel on breeders.
These pet shops, however, are a different story. Reeking of animal waste and peppered with droppings, the two shops we visit are a far-cry from what animal rights activists in the Sultanate stand for.
While they don’t openly admit to selling any rare breeds (E.g.: huskies, pugs, bulldogs, etc.), we notice that those cats, dogs, and birds that are on display live in dire conditions that would be detrimental to their health.
Our questions enquiring about the health and well-being of these pets are met with silence, though one expat worker tells us how “dogs and birds are taken in almost as immediately as they are brought into the shops.”
He then adds: “These animals never stay in their cages for too long. A lot of Omani families come here to buy birds and dogs. So, we never keep them there for too long. Also, it’s better that they stay in these cages and in the A/C than out there in the heat where they will die of dehydration.”
Pallavi Gosh, a member of the Omani Paws community and ‘mother’ to six cats and two dogs, is against buying pets: “Let’s not make a business out of animals.
“Here we are, taking in and fostering stray cats and dogs until we can find them a good home and, on the other side, there’s a lot of evil being propagated. This is hurting the efforts of all the good people of Oman.
“There’s nothing humane about displaying a dog in a cage that’s filled with its own feces. It’s painful to even think of it. I think we as a nation need to take a stand against these people by simply boycotting their services.
“We have tens of thousands of feral cats and dogs out there that need a home, love, and attention they deserve. We can give them that first before feeding money into a system that barely works for the efforts of animals.
“People like Nada al Moosa, Mariam al Zadjali, Zaid al Balushi, and many more – all strong humans who take in and offer foster homes to these little fur-balls of cuteness; their efforts are those that must be highlighted.
“So, instead of spending your pennies on a dog from a pet shop, why don’t you shell them out for a dog that really needs a home and your love?
“Just peek into the Omani Paws Facebook page to get an idea of how much in need we are of genuine animal lovers who can open up their homes to these lovely pets.
“If it wasn’t for these kind people offering up their homes for foster care, several cute puppies and kittens wouldn’t be alive today. Your commitment and love can save lives – and it’s as simple as welcoming a little cat or dog into your home and making them a part of your life.”