‘We will be back and we will be bigger, better and stronger.’ That’s the message coming from the Qatar Animal Welfare Society (QAWS), the country’s only rescue organisation for abandoned animals, after a devastating fire swept through its shelter, completely erasing the facility and killing a number of cats and dogs living there.
The fire started on September 3, in the middle of the day, at a time when the facility is closed. Only the casual presence of a few people from QAWS still on site avoided a complete disaster. The men managed to catch the fire in time and rescue a lot of the animals, but they couldn’t do anything to save the wooden structure that sheltered them.
Many cats and two dogs have died in the fire. The volunteers, who rushed to the facility as soon as they were alerted, were able to rescue most of the dogs. It was initially thought that almost all the cats, about 40, had died in the fire, but a number of animals, previously thought dead, returned to what was left of the shelter days after the blaze, looking for their homes and are now safe.
However, some good has come from this tragedy: The overwhelming response of the community. Since the day of the fire, people have not stopped offering their help and support for the over a hundred displaced animals who survived the blaze.
‘Response was really amazing. Within 30 minutes from the start of the fire, there were probably about a hundred volunteers on site, the news was on the internet and the phone didn’t stop ringing and still rings constantly for people offering support,’ Kelly Allen, QAWS adoption coordinator, tells Time Out. ‘The support is obvious from the number of people that turned up so quickly, that left work, left everything and just came down to help. We had guys turning up in their suits, straight from the office, we had people who turned up with their kids in the car because they were picking them up from school and they just came straight away.’
It is even more difficult for QAWS to get back on its feet because it is not a registered charity in Qatar. Staff members have been trying to achieve this status for the past five years as it would allow it to accept money. ‘We have a lot of people offering money towards the rebuild that we cannot accept, that we are having to turn down, and when we will start to rebuild the shelter we will have no money to build with,’ Allen explains. ‘We are going to solely rely on companies donating us materials.’
However, in the midst of this emergency, there are still many ways to help our furry friends and make sure that they have a new home as soon as possible. Because the shelter is literally destroyed, the volunteers are setting up a temporary storage facility to be able to start accepting donations. In the immediate days following the fire, there had been people wanting to donate items, which QAWS could not accept. ‘We have lost everything, so it is going to be back to basics, re-equipping the shelter. We don’t have anything, we don’t even have spoons and forks, bowls to feed the animals in, sheets and blankets,’ Allen says. ‘Everything that we have spent five years collecting has all gone in the space of 30 minutes.”
QAWS is also in need of people who have links to construction companies willing to donate labour or anyone who can help with re-equipping the shelter.
Although the volunteers are still waiting for an official report on the fire, many suspect that it was started by an electrical fault. No rebuilding process, however, will start until the group receives clearance from the investigation team.
In the meantime, almost all the animals that survived the fire have found foster homes for the next few months, and a few dogs have been permanently adopted by their new families and will not return to the shelter once it’s rebuilt. The Veterinary Surgery, Qatar Veterinary Centre and Pampered Pets, a local boarding kennel, were the first to step up to help and immediately take in the animals and offer assistance in housing.
‘We need to have a shelter up and running as soon as possible. Our aim is to have a brand new shelter built before Christmas because it is one of the worst times of the year for abandoning animals,’ Allen says. Hopefully with us, not being able to take in animals, the Government will start to realise how much we were doing.’
For updates on the rebuilding process and information on how you can help, see the dedicated page on the QAWS website, www.qaws.org.