The United Arab Emirates is generally known for its safety; however, the animal population has suffered a rash of abuse in recent months, with each horror story more violent than the last.
A “serial cat killer” in Jumeirah, poisoning animals that are unfortunate enough to wander from their homes. The teenager in Ajman who was filmed throwing a kitten against a wall and was later released without charge. The stray cat with half its face blown off by a gun.
The list goes on, and animal activists, veterinarians, and the general public feel sickened, frustrated, and helpless.
The UAE does have legislation regarding animal welfare, most of them articulated in Federal Law 16, enacted in 2007.
The law stipulates heavy fines of AED 5,000 to AED 20,000 and a minimum jail sentence of one month if an animal is undernourished, transported unsafely, experimented on, sexually abused, or any other form of cruelty.
However, the argument has been that the law is rarely enforced, and that the fines are not enough of a deterrent; the jail sentence should be increased too.
In response, the new Federal Law 18 issued late last year has heavier fines of AED 50,000 to AED 200,000 and a prison sentence of one year.
And in addition to Federal Law 18 is Federal Law 22, preventing the ownership of wild animals.
Still, most instances of animal cruelty happen outdoors against strays, not just pets, and often there are no witnesses.
It would be easy to place the blame on society’s hidden psychopaths who take pleasure in torturing living beings, but many argue that the problem goes deeper than just a few bad seeds. What is lacking is empathy and the drive to cultivate it in both youth and adults alike.
“Some people consider stray animals to be vermin,” says Sue Hartley, Dubai resident and member of the Bin Kitty Collective group on Facebook. “There seems to be little local will to care for helpless creatures.”
Sharjah resident Amy Zahra agrees. Zahra says she has witnessed boys in her neighborhood tying ropes to stray dogs’ necks, or shooting at birds with pellet guns.
Even if not for the sake of the animals themselves, the enthusiasm for and even the apathy towards their abuse should be at least be a concern for the sake of other people. There is, after all, a spillover effect.
You’ve heard of gateway drugs; welcome to gateway violence.
In the 2011 journal article “Examining the links between animal abuse and human violence,” Clifton Flynn confirms the decades of research showing that there is a link between animal abuse and violence towards human beings.
“In addition to family violence,” Flynn writes, “animal cruelty is associated with other forms of interpersonal violence and antisocial behavior including bullying, juvenile delinquency, and adult criminality involving both violent and nonviolent actions.”
Essentially, the lack of empathy that allows someone to be violent and cruel towards an animal can and will extend to other people. Animal abusers are therefore not only a danger to their current victims of choice, but all future human victims, as well society as a whole.
So what needs to happen to protect the thousands of strays – and even more pets – of the UAE, not to mention society?
“Parents should teach their children to be compassionate towards animals,” says BKC member Nicole Mallalieu, adding that this “should also be taught in schools.”
Zahra argues that religious leaders should play a role as well.
“Our Imams do not do enough in our mosques. They forget to preach and teach animal welfare.”
Kindness to animals is in fact stressed in Islam, both in the Quran and in the Hadiths of the Prophet (PBUH).
With new reports of animal abuse every week, the continued presence of cruelty hubs such as the Sharjah Birds and Animals Market, and the startling lack of emphasis on cultivating animal compassion, it remains to be seen whether the UAE’s legal measures will be effective.
The only thing for sure, though, is that it is terrifying how normalized violence towards animals has become, especially among young children.
Zahra tells the story of how on one occasion, the boys in her neighborhood were “hitting a stray dog with shoes until it ran away from them and got hit by a car.”
No one helped her remove his body from the busy road.
Rescue Organizations in the UAE:
Phone: 07 243 3184
Phone: 06 545 3985
Phone: 04 887 8739
Phone: 050 608 5738