Pet Souq in Doha
Time Out finds out what can be done about Doha’s Pet Souq 1 Comments
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Vicki Halpin holds up a tiny kitten, so small the ball of fluff barely fills her palm. The kitten doesn’t stir when it’s touched—too weak to even lift its head. It’s a little after 6pm in the Pet Souq portion of Souq Waqif, and Vicki says by this time tomorrow, the kitten will probably be dead.
I ask the shop keeper how much the kitten costs.
‘QR1,500’ he tells me. ‘But, because it’s sick, QR1000’.
She replaces the kitten in its cage, what looks like a wire bottomed bird cage, next to a small tray with a smear of what looks—and smells—like spoiled yogurt. His dinner.
‘It’s the same [as slumlords]. They make money trading the souls of animals,’ says Halpin. ‘I come down probably on a weekly basis. I don’t always have time to go and check all the animals, but usually when I’m down here I go to all the stores, look at the animals, tell them to give water to those that don’t have it,’ she says as we walk through the row of shops and cages. ‘If one animal gets water for one day you’ve done good for that day.’
She, along with Gill Shurey, founded Cats in Qatar several years ago. They agreed to take me along on one of their regular Pet Souq pilgrimages.
‘I don’t do it too often because I find it very very distressing,’ says Shurey. ‘Whether it’s lack of awareness or lack of caring I don’t know what, but it’s not difficult to give water or food, and I think a lot of it is just laziness. You know, you’ll see a puppy with no water, and you’ll say ‘give it water’, [and the shopkeeper will say] ‘ah he just spills it’.’
Cages filled with sherbet dyed bunnies and chicks crowd against sprawled cats, panting in the heat, and dogs stored in cages so small they can’t stand up. We duck into one shop to allow Vicki to help a German Sheppard puppy free his muzzle from where he’s gotten it caught between the bars of his cage, probably originally constructed for a rabbit or other small animal. The shopkeeper didn’t seem to notice the dog’s whimpers, or care about the torn patches on his snout where the bars have worn away the skin. He’s one of the lucky pups—at least he was inside, with the air-conditioning. Even as the heat rises over the summer months, animals are left outside, with no water or way of cooling themselves down.
According to Dr Maykel Mora, a vet at Parkview Pet Center, many of the animals, left in the heat and sun with no water, are suffering from heat stroke, on top of many other preventable diseases.
‘Normally, in a very severe case of heat stroke, the dog will actually collapse. You can look for signs on the skin, the skin reddening and hot, excessive panting. But it’s very easy to prevent. Keep your dog in the shade, make sure that they have plenty of water, cool it down as well. Common sense,’ he says. ‘ I was really appalled by [the Pet Souq]. A lot of problem there, overcrowded, heat stroke, animals kept without food or water. I try to really avoid going there, because I have a very hard time.’
While Qatar has several government sponsored initiatives, like government funded veterinary clinics offering free treatment, and the Animal Resource Department’s Trap-Neuter-Return program for feral cats, there are no government funded formal shelters in the country. Groups like Qatar Animal Welfare, Cats in Qatar, and 2nd Chance Rescue fill in the gaps, through fundraising and from their own pockets.
‘People in the western world particularly are great animal lovers, and they judge a people and a country by the way it treats its weakest members, which are women and children and animals,’ says Halpin. ‘There are laws protecting animals and so forth. You just don’t see starving animals on the street. Which is extremely distressing for a lot of people.’
Some Qataris, however, are working to change that. Abdulla al-Naemi is the young Qatari behind Parkview Pet Center and 2nd Chance Rescue. He’s got almost 50 stray dogs living on his farm, looking for new homes.
‘It’s very terrible, the Souq, for me. It’s something that embarrassed me a lot. When I have friends that are visiting me from somewhere else I try to avoid Souq Waqif as much as possible. I remember I had a visiting vet from Spain who came here to Qatar, and we passed by Souq Waqif and he literally teared. I was so embarrassed. I really felt horrible,’ he says. He’s not alone: al-Naemi says many of his Qatari friends are equally troubled by this portion of Souq Waqif. Especially since he opened his clinic and 2nd Chance Rescue and his interest in animal welfare became known, many of his Qatari friends have come to him looking for ideas of what can be done to change the situation.
Funding 2nd Chance Rescue out of his own pocket, he doesn’t even accept monetary donations (although donations of toys and other goods are welcome). Viewing his boarding facilities, with the cat condos he designed himself and the pristine dog kennel, which when I visited also hosted several stray dogs and a flock of kittens looking for homes, shows that the tiny, hot cages of the Souq are not the only way. He credits the situation in the Souq to simply a lack of information.
‘There is a lack of education and awareness about animal welfare here. And there is nobody who’s going to tell you how to take care of a dog. I used to have dogs before, many years ago, and I used to be a bad dog owner. I didn’t know that I had to walk him every day, up to 45 minutes. The only thing for me with a dog was he’s going to be next to me, and entertain me when I’m bored,’ he says. Now, he’s helped bring many dogs back from the brink of death. ‘Things like this, when we see dogs change so much, from bad condition to good condition, makes me feel much better and keeps me going on. This will be my thing forever. I will be rescuing animals all my life, and will try to get more Qataris involved.’
Halpin sees it more simply: with the staff and owners in the Souq itself.
‘The people who own the stores are ultimately responsible for what goes on in the store. And I think that person should be charged.’
Shurey agrees, and only hopes the laws catch up with the problems.
‘We went to one place today, and the vet said there, ‘oh the chap he hasn’t got a brain, he doesn’t understand how to look after animals’. And I say, ‘well he was working for you a month ago, surely you could have trained him by now’,’ says Shurey. ‘And he said ‘step by step, it takes a long time.’ It doesn’t take a long time to give a cat or a dog water, and change their litter tray.’
That’s also why many people still venture into the Souq at all. For many residents, purchasing an animal from the Pet Souq is the only way to save its life.
‘I think that the reason why people do it, especially Western expats, is they feel that by rescuing a pet from the Souq, they’re saving them. Which is true, but on the other hand, it just encourages people if they know that someone will buy this poor thing. So it doesn’t help in a way. On the other hand, I think that we all have a moral, ethical obligation to help,’ says Dr Mora. ‘So if you see a dying animal it’s really hard to turn your back and walk away. But I think that if people stopped going there and buying animals there, and campaign really actively, then we won’t get any animals in the Souq. It’s morally wrong. If we all join forces, things will change.’
After a letter writing campaign last year drew attention to the situation, the Ministry of Environment released goals to make changes, although without specific timelines or plans for implementation. At press date, The Ministry of Environment could not be reached for comment.
‘I think the only thing that will change it is if the laws change, and if the people actually get fined. I’d really like to see animal cops here in Qatar like they have in other countries,’ says Halpin. ‘If you look at how the horses are treated here and the falcons, they’re treated a lot better than the smaller animals because they have a much higher monetary value. So the value is on money and the cost of the animal, not on actually the soul of the animal.’
But al-Naemi is hopeful. ‘I think if they [the government] knew there was a problem here they’d fix it. But the thing is we need more Qataris to speak about this issue. What happens now I think they’ll say ‘why are those expats speaking about things in our country?’ What we need to do is have the balance and try to have more Qataris who are really interested in animal welfare, and they’ll make a difference. And I think now, we can work with like young Qataris. This is what I’m hoping for, to spread awareness and education about pet care. This will make it easier to absorb. I’m really just brainstorming of ideas to do it, and we’re trying.’
Back in the Souq, we’re at the Animal Hotel, a boarding and breeding facility where the animals are supposedly under a vets care. The smell hits you before you even get past reception. The male cats who live in the facility full time are crowded into wire bottom cages, the only solid place for them to sit their litter box, surrounded by their own feces. Vicki pulls a dish of water out of one cage, a floating piece of excrement muddying the water.
‘Would you drink that?’ she demands, thrusting it towards one of the employees.
‘Don’t shame me with that!’ he yells, jumping back. ‘I’m not an animal.’
Have your say
What do you think? What can be done to change things? What are your suggestions? Let us know on Twitter @timeoutdoha or at www.timeoutdoha.com!By Jessica Davey-Quantick
Time Out Doha,
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