How dog-friendly is the UAE? Fri­day finds out what it takes to own and care for a furry friend.

Shreeja Ravin­dranathan hounds lo­cal pet own­ers for their views on the joys and strug­gles of bring­ing up a furry friend in the UAE, and finds out how sev­eral groups are mak­ing the coun­try even more pooch-friendly

Friday - - Contents - PHO­TOS BY STE­FAN LIN­D­EQUE

When Richard Wil­son was grow­ing up in Bur Dubai, his dog-lov­ing fam­ily was one of only two in the build­ing they lived in. The Wil­sons got their dog, Scot­tie, a cocker spaniel, in 1996. Wil­son, 36, is now the proud owner of a choco­late Labrador called Courage, whom he adopted in 2015 and lives with in Busi­ness Bay, and he’s seen plenty more dogs ar­rive on the scene since Scot­tie, who died in 2007.

Dur­ing Scot­tie’s life­time, the BurJu­man area where the fam­ily lived wasn’t as de­vel­oped as it is now, and there were lots of empty spa­ces for dogs to run around in with­out a leash. ‘Even when we moved to a villa in Mirdif three years af­ter we bought Scot­tie, we were one of three fam­i­lies with a dog in that area and he had plenty of open ground to play in. By the time I moved out in 2010, our com­plex had at least 12 dogs.’

The sce­nario has changed in the 20 years since Scot­tie scam­pered around Bur Dubai. While the num­ber of dog lovers is high, (if he hun­dreds of peo­ple who wrote in to tell Fri­day their sto­ries when we put a call out to own­ers on so­cial me­dia, is any in­di­ca­tion) there are fewer dogs bound­ing around.

A new law, passed at the end of last year, re­quires own­ers to keep their dogs on a leash at all times, but there’s also a grow­ing ac­cep­tance and un­der­stand­ing of pooches and their needs, in­clud­ing from the govern­ment level.

Ear­lier this month, Dubai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity took part in the first Walk for An­i­mals at Zabeel Park, to raise aware­ness of an­i­mal rights and stop abuse, as well as to share in­for­ma­tion about pet own­er­ship and adop­tion (no dogs were at the event, how­ever, be­cause dogs are not per­mit­ted in the park). The event was or­gan­ised by Mahin Bahrami, an­i­mal ac­tivist and co-founder of Mid­dle East An­i­mal Foun­da­tion (MEAF), the first for­mally reg­is­tered an­i­mal wel­fare or­gan­i­sa­tion in Dubai.

‘We’re try­ing to bridge the com­mu­ni­ca­tion gap and li­aise be­tween govern­ment au­thor­i­ties, de­vel­op­ers, and an­i­mal lovers,’ Mahin says.

There are other fes­ti­vals that show the level of in­ter­est in dog own­er­ship: The Abu Dhabi Pet Fes­ti­val on Fe­bru­ary 3 saw 4,000 peo­ple, 600 dogs and 35 cats make their way to du Arena, Yas Is­land. (Lock down Fe­bru­ary 2018 for the next one.) The Dubai Pet Fes­ti­val, which was held on De­cem­ber 9 last year, and started in Mirdif in 2012, saw 1,010 dogs at its new lo­ca­tion in Dubai Sports City. They were ac­com­pa­nied by 18,000 peo­ple and 50 cats. (The next

Dubai Pet Fes­ti­val will take place in De­cem­ber.) Al Habtoor Polo Re­sort Club is run­ning Horse and Hound shows, which wel­come pet own­ers and their four-legged friends; the next one is on March 4.

Nonethe­less, the UAE’s parks, beaches, boule­vards and open pub­lic spa­ces re­main in­ac­ces­si­ble to dogs and dog own­ers for daily walks. Dubai Ma­rina, which once al­lowed dogs, is now a no-dog zone, as is JBR, The Walk. Pets aren’t al­lowed on pub­lic trans­port, RTA taxis, buses or the Metro across the UAE. The epi­cen­tre of life in the coun­try – malls and shop­ping cen­tres – are also out of bounds for dogs. The Fed­eral Law No 22 of 2016, passed by the Min­istry of Cli­mate Change and En­vi­ron­ment, states that dogs must be li­censed, vac­ci­nated and kept on a leash at all times. Fail­ure to com­ply will see own­ers given a fine of up to Dh100,000. The li­cense has not yet been in­tro­duced, says Dubai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s Faisal: ‘Pet own­ers only have to regis­ter their pets ei­ther with Dubai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity or any ve­teri­nary clinic in Dubai. All they need is their valid Emi­rates ID and the pet with them’.

Sara Elliot, founder and vet at the Bri­tish Ve­teri­nary Hospi­tal in Dubai, points out the rea­sons why gain­ing open ground for dogs isn’t a cake­walk.

‘[Dogs] are seen as not a friendly an­i­mal,’ she ex­plains. ‘Pet own­ers need to be aware of that, as there are a num­ber of peo­ple here [in the UAE] who are scared of [dogs].’

Con­cern for pub­lic safety is key. ‘Leashes on dogs are nec­es­sary in pub­lic spa­ces for the com­mu­nity’s safety and to avoid any cases of bites,’ Faisal Ibrahim Al Muam­mari, head of ve­teri­nary con­trol unit at Dubai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, tells Fri­day.

Pet own­ers in the coun­try are all too fa­mil­iar with peo­ple flee­ing in ter­ror at the sight of their mutts. When Richard walks Courage by Dubai Wa­ter Canal, there are three types of peo­ple he meets. ‘Peo­ple who see a dog and jump 10 feet in the air, peo­ple who gen­uinely like dogs, and then there’s the third who just don’t care.

‘Kids some­times run af­ter dogs and scream, pull their tails and star­tle them. The scared an­i­mal’s in­stinc­tive de­fence mech­a­nism is to then snap at the per­pe­tra­tor,’ Richard ex­plains.

Ac­cord­ing to Sara, scream­ing and run­ning is the worst re­sponse you can give around any dog be­cause, ‘If you run scream­ing from a vi­cious dog, that dog will see you as backing down and there­fore will chase. If it’s a friendly dog that’s used to chil­dren, they will often see it as a game and chase af­ter to see what the game en­tails and how they can join in.’

In the four months that 35-year-old South African ex­pat Lindi Beetge has been liv­ing in the UAE, her tiny French bull­dog pup Luna has man­aged to spook ‘big, burly guys’. ‘I’ve ex­plained to so many peo­ple that she’s a baby and won’t even bite. There have also been those who are re­ally friendly and want to pet her.’

Dog own­ers might be sad­dened that their beloved pets are per­ceived as threats, but there’s a rea­son for this view. ‘There’s a lack of ed­u­ca­tion, there’s a lack of ex­po­sure’, Sara points out. ‘In a lot of coun­tries you’re brought up with pets and able to read the mood of the pet, whether or not it’s ag­gres­sive, whether it wants to play.’

In Cape Town, Lindi’s home­town, dogs are com­mon­place, dot­ting beaches, parks and even shop­ping cen­tres.

Rashi Matthews, a 19-year-old stu­dent at He­riot Watt Univer­sity, lives in Dubai’s Mankhool neigh­bour­hood with her golden re­triever Os­car, not far from where Richard and Scot­tie lived.

‘We live in a du­plex apart­ment,’ she says. ‘My build­ing is dog-friendly, but it’s one of the few in the Bur Dubai area that is. That said, I can’t say that the peo­ple in our build­ing are too fond of dogs.

‘Peo­ple who have never owned dogs or pets in gen­eral don’t know how friendly they can be. My mother is an ex­am­ple – she was un­com­fort­able at first but ever since Os­car came into our lives she’s a pet-lover too.’

Of course, the onus to demon­strate dogs’ friend­li­ness, and prove to peo­ple that their fear of dogs is un­founded, falls on dog own­ers. Train­ing pets from the day you get them, teach­ing them to not bark, en­gage with or chase strangers, steal peo­ple’s food and en­sure that you clean af­ter them, is the way to win trust. In Richard’s opin­ion, ‘There is never a mis­be­hav­ing dog. It’s al­ways an ir­re­spon­si­ble owner. If a dog makes a mess in the lobby of apart­ment build­ing, it sets a bad ex­am­ple and val­i­dates mis­giv­ings res­i­dents have.’

Hy­giene is re­port­edly the rea­son why Emaar banned dogs from Dubai Ma­rina, once a pet-friendly area (Emaar didn’t re­spond to re­quests for com­ment on how dog-friendly their other com­mu­ni­ties are).

Faisal says vac­ci­na­tions and reg­is­tra­tions of pets come un­der the um­brella of Pub­lic Health and Safety, ‘ac­cord­ing to the lo­cal or­der No 11 of 2003’.

Re­spon­si­ble own­er­ship also in­cludes not aban­don­ing or abus­ing pets. There’s no ig­nor­ing the hor­ror sto­ries of abused and aban­doned an­i­mals that make the news. ‘Adop­tion agen­cies like K9 Friends’, says Mahin, ‘are full of th­ese pets and have no space to take on any more.’

Beckie Ash­ton, a mum of three who lives in JVT, ex­plains how her fam­ily rescued poo­dles Tim and Marley, who were aban­doned in a villa in Aj­man with­out food and wa­ter for four days. ‘They both had liver is­sues and still shiver at be­ing touched and hes­i­tate to go out. They’re healthy now but the trauma runs deep.’

‘Own­ing a pet is an ex­pen­sive af­fair that re­quires time, com­mit­ment and money, just like hav­ing a child,’ Sara says. ‘They’re so­cial an­i­mals so if you lock them up alone for eight or nine hours a day, like hu­mans, they too will get lonely and bored and hence be­come de­struc­tive and start bark­ing. This is why a lot of apart­ments don’t al­low dogs.’

‘Peo­ple who’ve never owned dogs or pets don’t know how FRIENDLY they can be. My mother is an ex­am­ple – she was un­com­fort­able at first but ever since Os­car came into our lives she’s a PET LOVER’

Over the past 10 years or so the govern­ment has made pets much more wel­come, and pro­tected, mem­bers of so­ci­ety – the re­quire­ment to regis­ter all pets is to en­sure they are in safe hands, as reg­is­tra­tion en­sures they’re vac­ci­nated and mi­crochipped.

Dogs and cats are ‘some­thing like­able and a favourite of many peo­ple,’ writes Dubai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity in its pam­phlet about pet own­er­ship, which de­tails fines for ne­glect and im­proper care of pets, as well as not keep­ing dogs on a leash.

‘They have also closed down adop­tion agen­cies that didn’t meet the re­quire­ments or weren’t trans­par­ent in deal­ings,’ says Sara.

Richard feels the laws are fair. ‘Hon­estly, I don’t think there needs to be a leash law. A dog needs to be on a leash in pub­lic spa­ces, that’s just good own­er­ship and com­mon sense.’

Rashi is on the same page and says

the law also pro­tects pet own­ers: ‘It en­sures our pets don’t run away or get lost.’

Dubai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity has also launched Aleef, an app for pet own­ers that gives ac­cess to records of pets, pet own­ers, pet adop­tion, reg­is­tra­tion, treat­ment and pet care.

While the dog own­ers that Fri­day spoke to un­der­stand con­cerns peo­ple have about pets and are happy to stay out of pub­lic parks and beaches, they voice the need for des­ig­nated dog parks and beaches.

Spe­cialised in­door cen­tres ex­ist, where dogs can go to swim, so­cialise with other dogs and have su­per­vised play dates, such as Paws Planet and My Sec­ond Home in Dubai and Cloud9 in Abu Dhabi.

How­ever, it’s in a dog’s ge­netic makeup to be out in the open and ex­er­cise their high-spir­ited, en­er­getic na­ture. Not do­ing so can im­pact phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal health neg­a­tively.

At her prac­tice, over­weight dogs are the norm for Sara. ‘It’s a com­mon prob­lem here due to over-feed­ing, lack of rou­tine and ex­er­cise. We def­i­nitely need some spots for them to be ex­er­cised in.’

When Richard adopted Courage, the dog was over­weight but has now been trimmed down to his ideal weight with runs.

Os­car isn’t as lucky: ‘Os­car is 5kg over his ideal weight. In Bur Dubai, apart from the sandy lot near our house where he runs around ev­ery day with my dad, there are no spa­ces for dogs.’

With the leash law in ef­fect, open green spa­ces are a good 45-minute drive away for the Matthews fam­ily.

‘OVER­WEIGHT dogs are a com­mon prob­lem in this coun­try due to OVER-FEED­ING, lack of ROU­TINE and ex­er­cise. We def­i­nitely need some SPOTS for dogs to be EX­ER­CISED in’

Obe­sity aside, dogs are so­cial an­i­mals, Sara high­lights, and need dog parks to in­ter­act with and learn about their species. ‘It’s very, very im­por­tant for dogs to so­cialise with other dogs. Oth­er­wise they will be afraid of or ag­gres­sive to other mem­bers of their species,’ she warns.

‘The way to not let the leash law af­fect pets’ ac­tiv­ity and lives is to set up a dog park,’ says Mahin. The good news is that dogs may soon have their day in the sun. The MEAF, Mahin tell us, has ini­ti­ated talks with Dubai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity to do­nate a piece of land to the or­gan­i­sa­tion that can then be con­verted into a dog park.

Dubai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity con­firmed this, telling Fri­day that a dog park ‘is in the plan for the fu­ture.’

Un­til the pro­posed dog park ma­te­ri­alises, the UAE’s dog lovers keep look­ing for spa­ces where they can let their dogs run free.

The Greens, an Emaar devel­op­ment, is a pet-friendly space where both res­i­dents and non-res­i­dents take their furry pals to gam­bol around in the grass. There’s a dog park there but it’s ex­clu­sive to res­i­dents.

Priyanka Mehro­tra, a 29-year-old pub­lic ac­coun­tant, takes Tango, her King Charles Cava­lier, for walks at Burj Park and the man­i­cured paths around Zabeel Palace. Lindi favours the Golden Mile in her Palm Jumeirah neigh­bour­hood, the open grassy area around Sky Dive Dubai; Al Qu­dra Lakes’ sandy, empty banks are a hotspot too.

In Abu Dhabi, Jing Sin­tos walks her 10-month old chow chow Jack Daniels around the Al Ba­teen area and he runs amok in Cloud9 Pet Ho­tel’s open gar­den.

Ar­eas like The Greens, Mead­ows, Burj Park and JLT are dog-friendly zones be­cause de­vel­op­ers’ com­mu­ni­ties fall un­der their ju­ris­dic­tion, ex­plains Dubai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s Faisal. ‘It de­pends on the pol­icy of the de­vel­oper if dogs can be walked or not.’

Dubai Prop­er­ties, the de­vel­oper of Bay Av­enue and Marasi board­walk next to the Dubai Wa­ter Canal in Busi­ness Bay, did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment about their pol­icy on dogs. Nakheel told us that ‘pets are gen­er­ally per­mit­ted in Nakheel master com­mu­ni­ties, sub­ject to the terms set out in our com­mu­nity rules and reg­u­la­tions. Th­ese in­clude en­sur­ing pets’ reg­is­tra­tions and vac­ci­na­tions are up to date; keep­ing dogs on leashes when out­side the home and clean­ing up af­ter their pets. How­ever, re­stric­tions ap­ply in cer­tain ar­eas.’

Mean­while, it is also nec­es­sary to con­tinue to ed­u­cate peo­ple about how an­i­mals can peace­fully co­ex­ist in our com­mu­ni­ties and the joys of hav­ing pets.

‘Peo­ple need a place to in­ter­act and ac­cli­ma­tise to well-be­haved pets. It en­cour­ages other peo­ple and chil­dren to take in­ter­est and care for pets,’ Sara ex­plains.

‘Be­ing seen by the whole com­mu­nity to [be re­spon­si­ble own­ers] means that maybe in the fu­ture we will have proved our­selves worthy enough to have the priv­i­leges of dog-ac­cess beach or a dog park.’

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