On May 1, the Qatar Animal Welfare Society is officially homeless. Jessica Davey-Quantick looks back on how one of the biggest animal welfare groups in Qatar started, and how they can have a future.
Sophie, a grey saluki, is alive because of QAWS. Her owner abandoned her on an island, and had a visitor not picked her up and brought the emaciated dog, covered in wounds from where she’d been beaten to QAWS, she would have died. Lucky would have been garbage if it wasn’t for QAWS volunteers, who saw the puppy after he was hit by a car, and raced across traffic to save him from the garbage truck men approaching with shovels.
Sally was a puppy for sale at the Pet Souq, who was locked inside the shop for over a week after the owner shut down his business.QAWS volunteers broke the lock to save her. Golden retriever Soul was found on Wakra beach, huddled into a hole next to her dead friend. Their owner had dug a deep hole by the water’s edge and thrown her in to die as the tide came in.
And Harely was rescued, after being tied to the bumper of a car and drug through the industrial area for the amusement of the driver’s children by a long-time supporter, after the pads on his feet had been scraped completely off by the gravel. They are among the thousands of animals who found new homes and new lives, thanks to the volunteers at the Qatar Animal Welfare Society.
‘Over the years we believe we have helped over 4,000 animals in one way or another. Whether it be housing and re-homing abandoned animals, re-uniting lost pets with their owners or rehabilitating and releasing wild animals. QAWS was the first animal welfare organisation in Qatar and before we existed, the situation regarding stray animals was grim. Stray dogs were a common sight around Doha and we saw dogs being hit by cars on an almost daily basis,’ says Kelly Allen, one of the long-time volunteers helping to run the shelter. ‘QAWS began purely by accident! In 2003, our now chairperson Janet Berry opened a boarding kennels and cattery and within a week of opening, two puppies (Fizz and Fonzie) were thrown out of a moving car in front of the gate. Janet decided it really wouldn’t be a problem to have the occasional rescue stay at the kennels until a home was found. Word spread very quickly that there was finally a facility in Qatar taking in stray and unwanted animals and within a year there were too many animals to house. In May 2004, QAWS was officially formed and we began construction on the original shelter.’
But now, almost a decade later, that may all be coming to an end. On May 1, QAWS is officially homeless.
‘Our current landlords gave us notice as we have simply outgrown their small family farm. We have been searching for a piece of land and have had no luck finding anything suitable that we could even contemplate affording!’ says Janet Berry. ‘Every country in the world has animal welfare issues on some scale, Qatar is no different. Qatar needs an Animal Welfare organization and at the moment we are it. The community must have somewhere to turn when they need advice, assistance, guidance, a place of safety for an unfortunate animal.’
They’ve been on the hunt for a new space for several months, with no luck. They’re looking for approximately 10,000 square meters, within a half hour drive from the center of Doha to allow them to continue their educational initiatives with schools and community service programs with various companies, as well as being easily accessible for volunteers. In 2007, the UAE government stepped forward and gifted K9 Friends with a purpose-build dog shelter, when that animal welfare group faced its own eviction. Similarly, the Bahrain Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was given land by the government to construct their shelter. So far, no such gifts have emerged from the Qatar government.
Allen says this is a step in the wrong direction for Qatar, who in recent years has begun to make changes towards how the country deals with its animals. ‘From the very beginning we have always wanted to become a registered NGO with our own facilities that could continue rescue work long after we have all moved on from Qatar. To now face closure and there be no other facility that can house the number and variety of animals that we do and continue the amount of education and community initiatives we are involved with is just so disheartening and is a massive step backwards for Qatar,’ she says.
Currently, QAWS is home to 130 dogs and puppies, 50 cats and kittens, 15 rabbits, two donkeys, three goats and dozens of ducks, chickens and geese.
‘We never expected QAWS to become this big! From a mum and daughter re-homing a couple of pets now and then, to an organisation housing 300 animals, hosting community events and being heavily involved in education and awareness is unbelievable!’ says Allen. But now, they’re in survival mode.
‘The animals, of course are our first priority. We have reduced the number of intakes significantly and are helping some people to help themselves by finding homes direct rather than bringing them into the shelter. Our re-homing has increased and slowly but surely the numbers are reducing,’ agrees Berry. ‘We have plans to continue re-homing from alternative locations should the need arise.’
And then, of course, there is Ferdinand, affectionately known as Ferdie, their Bull.
‘Ferdie our bull has been with us for nine years now and many of our supporters remember him when he first came to QAWS as a one week old calf! Another great favourite was Molly the Hamadryas baboon who we rescued at four months old and stayed with us for a year before going to live at a primate sanctuary in the UK,’ says Allen. ‘There have been so many animals over the years and we all have different favourites. Our permanent residents, such as the farm animals, have always been a favourite with the staff and volunteers as they are always there to greet you. We have had volunteers from the beginning leave Qatar and return years later to find the same large animals still with us, which always brings a smile and stories being traded.’
This makes it even harder to relocate, as you can’t exactly have a bull living in someone’s apartment or back garden. Berry says eleventh hour arrangements have been made for the farm animals, but it’s still not a permanent solution.
‘We keep hoping and keep pushing, we are determined to keep fighting.Too much work has already gone into this and awareness of animal welfare, rescue, and the work we do is on the increase,’ says Berry. This isn’t the first time QAWS has faced disaster and survived however: on September 3, 2009 a fire ripped through the complex.
‘To get a phone call saying there was a rapidly spreading fire at the shelter is just indescribable. Racing to the shelter, seeing the flames and smoke, the police and fire brigade, the animals all loose and roaming the farm is something we’ll never forget. We will always never forget the hundreds of QAWS supporters who dropped everything they were doing, left work and school and came to our aid,’ remembers Allen. ‘What started off as a small electrical fault due to a wire being chewed by a mouse ended in our entire shelter being completed destroyed with nothing being salvageable. Immediately it was realised that the fire couldn’t be stopped and our heartfelt thanks will always go to our staff who lived onsite, as they caught the fire early and managed to open all the kennels letting all the dogs out of the shelter. Unfortunately the fire spread to the cat facility incredibly quickly and although the outside runs could all be opened, the animals shut inside couldn’t be reached.
We lost 39 animals that day; two dogs, three rabbits, 33 cats and kittens and our possum and we’ll never forget them. Thanks to everyone who came to our assistance, all the surviving dogs and cats were rounded up, piled into cars and driven to vet clinics, boarding kennels and foster homes where they stayed until the farm was cleared and a temporary facility was put together. It’s been incredibly hard to build the shelter back up but at no point could we give up – we had all those animal’s depending on us. It’s still extremely hard to look back at that day and it was without a doubt the lowest point of QAWS’ history.’
They managed to rebuild the shelter, with donated materials, fundraising events and the sweat from dedicated volunteers brows. Now, they’re looking at having to do it all again, should they ever find another location. Berry doesn’t know what keeps them going, but she’s glad they’re still at it.
‘We ask ourselves this question all the time, the answer is not easy but at the end of the day it’s the animals that need us, those in our care and those still out there waiting to be rescued,’ she says. ‘We have to keep going. Tears, tantrums, coffee, all help!’
They’ve not just been saving animals: their efforts have helped to educate the community, both expat and national, on animal welfare, and has slowly but surely started to bring about change in Qatar.
‘We have had great support from the expat community from the very beginning and our involvement within the community increases every year. As we were such a new concept to Doha, the local community found it quite strange initially that we were putting in so much time, effort and money to help animals but as we have become more and more well known, we are seeing increasing local involvement with the shelter and our awareness initiatives,’ says Allen.
Now, without a new shelter, this chapter of QAWS may be coming to an end. Neither Allen nor Berry know for sure what’s next: but neither one is ready to leave the animals to fend for themselves. And neither are the QAWS supporters, who have been voraciously campaigning and hunting for a new location via social media, as well as opening their homes to animals made homeless on May 1.
‘Our issue is simply finding a piece of land that can be donated to QAWS for a minimum of three years. This will enable us to keep moving forward with the relevant authorities to become a fully fledged NGO with a permanent home of our own,’ says Berry. ‘People can talk everywhere they go, keep raising awareness and spreading the word. Somewhere there is one person or authority who can resolve this matter!’
For more information or to find out how you can help, check them out on Facebook or at www.qaws.org