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All things bright and beautiful

| December 28, 2011

A cat’s life in Oman

Our story is probably not a new or unusual one for visitors to Oman. I have never been a “bleeding heart” type, and although I grew up with many pampered pets over the years, I never really contemplated how the other half of the animal kingdom lives. That was about to change in a very dramatic way.

My fiancée and I arrived from South Africa 6 months ago to start working as musical entertainers at one of the top 5-star hotels in Muscat. After several contracts in the UAE we were at first delighted at the laid-back feel of Oman, the friendly people and the beautiful scenery. We stay in the diplomatic area, surrounded by embassies, a quiet, green neighborhood.

We soon started noticing the scores of “dumpster cats”, wandering the streets and frequenting our housing complex. Everyone in Muscat is aware of this problem, but I doubt whether they have all really experienced what we have.

As fate would have it, on our very first Friday off, we reluctantly rescued a tiny two-week old kitten from beneath a car in front of the hotel. It had clearly been separated from its mother and was terrified and hungry. With great care and difficulty we managed to get him clean and after two full days he trusted us enough to have some milk and porridge from a syringe. We never intended to keep him, but upon investigation we realized that the odds of finding him a loving home were very slim. We called him Friday. As it turned out, Friday’s mother and his other four siblings showed up on our terrace. At first, she tried to get to him but upon smelling him, decided that he (being the smallest and weakest, the runt of the litter) was no longer her problem, but ours.

The furry family did stick around though, and we saw them almost daily outside our veranda. As the weeks grew into months, we saw countless litters being born, territorial males with horrific injuries, two cats run over by cars, dead kittens on the sidewalk, females in heat howling at all hours and vicious fights between males. Starving cats and kittens followed us to and from work most nights, jumping from filthy dumpsters where they hide from the majority of humans here who merely chase them away or beat them.

Friday was growing and healing. In his short life he had cat flu, ear mites, a tail broken in two places, his whiskers burnt off and a rheumy, infected eye. Weeks of veterinary care and patience paid off and he finally started catching up to his free roaming siblings in size.

Soon, the mother vanished. We no longer knew where the litter was until one kitten was run over. We spotted another at the dumpster where we occasionally left food. It had broken its leg and could not walk, then soon after, also vanished. For the remaining 3 months only two were left and we often thought about capturing them somehow. Our visits to the vet and the local shopping centers however, painted a bleak picture of how many cats (and dogs) were abandoned or looking for homes. The vet told us that people sometimes brought in abandoned litters or rescued animals, most of which had to be destroyed. The best they could do was to treat any obvious injuries or disease, then release the animals back onto the streets.

Soon, one of the two remaining kitten also had a limp. He seemed not to have grown at all over the past few months and was extremely skittish and afraid of people. His sister was slightly bigger and bolder. We occasionally fed them when they were around and marveled at how Friday, who was so much smaller than them, had grown to almost twice their size. The two siblings had a rough time surviving the hordes of aggressive males on the block and spent most of their time hiding or running away from the huge, battle-scarred veterans of the neighborhood. Yet another female gave birth and nursed a single kitten beneath our veranda whilst fending off the advances of two competing males.

A few days ago, the female kitten of our twosome somehow sustained a horrible injury to one of her hind feet. We noticed her limp on the bloodied and swollen foot and tried in vain to capture her. Three days later, we saw her lying on our veranda, the foot as large as that of a small child, her body covered in lesions, a large male cat hovering over her as she was probably in heat as well. This time she didn’t resist and entered our cat travel box willingly to get to the food inside. The smell of decay was overwhelming. She was quiet all the way to the vet, still hungrily eating the food inside the box.

Upon arrival at the vet, there was only one solution: euthanasia. After two attempts and two broken needles due to her thrashing about, the vet managed to sedate her. The injury had become infected and led to the obvious result when one lives in a dumpster. Maggots had entered her leg and ate away all the soft tissue, all the way up to the hip. Only stringy tendons and bone were left beneath the fur. As the vet lifted her out of the box, maggots fell onto the table and floor.

We left her inside and stood on the curb, waiting for a cab. Less than ten minutes later, an assistant/janitor exited the clinic, carrying a black refuse bag. He passed us and about 5 meters away from us, unceremoniously and with a loud thud, tossed her into the dumpster. That was when we cried. We cried for the possible life she could have had, for the pain she suffered, for the anonymity and lack of dignity of her death, for the fact that she lived and died the same way: in a dumpster with garbage. Worthless, as if she never existed.

Now, only one of the litter remains. An entire family wiped out in less than 6 months. They are not the only ones. Hundreds die on the streets each month, unwanted litters find their way into garbage bins, expats leave Oman and hope that they will find homes for their pets. This almost never happens. In a country that boasts of great benevolence and charity, there is no SPCA or similar organization. There is a small group of volunteers (the recently formed Animal Rescue Centre of Oman) who are attempting a capture-neuter-release program, but rely on fundraising. Save for one small article in a local newspaper, I have seen no press coverage of this problem in the last 6 months. An internet search produced very few references (mostly to the ARC) and even referred to occasional municipal “raids” where stray cats were shot en masse. Only good news makes the local news in Oman. Animal suffering and their rights (or lack thereof) just doesn’t make for good press. Tourists and investors don’t need to hear about this, they don’t need to see the filth in the streets, the complete lack of interest in addressing the problem. Would this change if the animals started to spread disease to humans? Would an outbreak of rabies in the embassy area with its palatial homes and big cars do the trick? I wonder. Will anything not aimed at making money be pursued here? I doubt it.

In 3 weeks, we leave Oman. Friday will go back to South Africa with us. We simply cannot trust that we’ll find him a loving home. We’d rather take on the expense of completing his rescue: one cat will tell the story of thousands of others. We are disillusioned, bitter, tired of seeing pain and suffering everywhere, and seriously angry. The worst is that by writing this, we are preaching to the converted. The people who have the money and means to address the problem have better things to do. Like make more money. Like sweet talking foreigners into buying into the Utopia that is Oman. I, for one, cannot wait to leave.

Sent in by Johan Groenewald

Category: Feline Resources

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