A few weekends ago, a friend gave a call. He said he needed an urgent help with his cat.
This struck as weird, because not only did he not have cat (until then), but was not known to be a cat lover either. Nevertheless, he needed help, so we headed to where he was.
He said he had agreed to foster the cat in question, which had been abandoned behind his office. His old owners had left the little ball of fluff to fend for itself, with a blanket for it to sleep on, and food and water to last for a few days.
The three-year-old cat, a hybrid between a Turkish Angora and a Persian, seemed to shrink into an even smaller ball every time Sayonto would approach him. It did take some coaxing, but in the end, the ginger stray was gently put into a pet carrier and taken to his house in Boushar.
That was two months ago. Ginger stray is now named Rover, and is easily the most adorable cat you’ve seen. What initially began as Rover’s temporary foster house is now his forever home, and both Sayonto and his wife Ahana have taken to the adorable three-year-old. They’ve shared many fond memories with him, and will look forward to many heart-melting moments in future.
“We were informed of this cat, and there was no one available to take him in,” said Sayonto. “One of my colleagues, who is very experienced with cats, said this was a really docile, domesticated cat that had been abandoned by its family but I always had a fondness for dogs, rarely for cats. Since this was only going to be a short-term thing, my wife and I decided to keep him for a while.
“He is easily the most adorable, loving cat we have ever seen,” he added. “In the beginning, he was a bit afraid, and that is only natural, because he’d been abandoned. But now he is used to us and we are really happy to have him with us. We formally adopted him a few weeks ago and honestly, we are so glad that we were able to give him a home,” said Sayonto.
Although his wife Ahana isn’t too fond of pets, both cat and human bonded with each other almost instantly.
All across Oman, there are thousands of kind-hearted people like Sayonto and Ahana, who are waiting to give these abandoned pets a new home and a second chance. But the truth is that while people like him will always be welcome, the kind-hearted nature of volunteers like Sayonto is necessary because every year across Oman, people abandon their pets for no other reason than because they don’t want them anymore.
Some choose to just leave their pets behind while they leave the country, forcing them to fend on the streets, where they suffer from hunger and infection, and die a pitiable death, while others come off worse in fights with street animals and are fated to face a slow, agonising end.
In this article, we try to find out why pets are being abandoned in Oman, and what it means to foster them and give them another chance at life.
Jaison Mathai is founder of animal welfare group Tiger By The Tails (TBTT).Set up on 1 January 2016 to rescue animals, they conduct welfare programmes, awareness programmes, and find responsible homes for rescued animals. The organisation has since homed more than 350 cats. While the organisation does rehab and re-home cats, they do also provide aid to other animals, including dogs and birds.
“A pet is a member of the family. People buy pets from shops, and these cost about OMR 150 or 250. A pet is a responsibility, you have to groom it, take care of it, give it food. You have to clean up after it, and as the responsibilities go on or if the animal falls sick, people lose interest in taking care of the animals. House cats for example are normally purebreds that have never had to survive on their own. It is really selfish and cruel for this to happen.”
Jaison added, “people need to step forward more. Many of my Omani friends for example are huge animal lovers who do everything possible, but we need more participation. Awareness is hugely absent, so we go to schools and give a lot of stress on awareness programmes. We are making a book on what helps a cat and what doesn’t.” Having set up a network of contacts among veterinary clinics who will readily share their number, they are also accessible on Facebook and Instagram, as well as WhatsApp and standard text messaging services.
But Jaison says that more participation is required, simply because he and his team of volunteers cannot be everywhere all the time. While they have committed to rehabbing and re-homing animals, Jaison and his team also have full-time jobs, as well as personal and social responsibilities.
“We cannot rescue all the animals. It is impossible for us to go everywhere, so we have to evaluate on priority. We sometimes ask those who have found these animals to go to Capital Vets because we have a tie-up with them. We are all volunteers and this is extremely demanding. When you see the suffering of these animals you cannot sleep. Sometimes, they don’t even get water to drink.”
Jaison also shed light on how he and TBTT organised their re-homing and rehabbing procedures for abandoned and stray animals. A big part of their process involves TNR – the global policy of trap, neuter and release that is followed by similar groups across the world.
“ Every animal we rescue cannot be given for adoption. Some cats for example are feral, so we conduct TNRs – that’s trap, neuter and release,” he explained. “We vaccinate them so that they get better immunity, we neuter them and then release them back into the habitat. They don’t reproduce and multiply so half the problem is solved. My request to everyone is to leave food and water for all the abandoned and stray animals. We have a certified member named Beverly Moss, who looks after our TNR programmes.”
Jaison was happy to share a particularly poignant story of how one cat that was being fostered not just found love in its fosterer, but returned it as well. “There was a cat that had both of its hind legs paralysed after an accident,” he recalled. “We took it to Capital Vets, where Dr Peter was trying for about a month with physiotherapy and medicines, but nothing happened. Dr Peter called me and told me that we needed to put him to sleep, but I am against this, because if you cannot give a life, then you have no right to take a life.
Jaison added, “I asked him to continue the treatment but the eyes of the cats said that it had lost all hope. I then asked Beverly to take it home, and within two months, the cat was walking around and running around, because we showed it love. Beverly fell in love with the cat, and she wanted to take it home and she adopted it. These are the stories that keep us going.”
We also spoke to other residents in Oman who took in abandoned pets with the intention of fostering them, because while a pet is more often than not permanent, a foster is always temporary. While it might be easy to give these poor animals love when you first bring them home, parting with them is always hard because you have to give away someone on whom you have poured your love.
However, what keeps fosterers going is the belief that they are giving these animals better homes than they previously had. Marlen Penner, a long-term German expat who lives in Oman has helped foster dozens of animals over the years. One of them happens to be Mamma, her office cat who was rescued from the streets and is now the centre of attention, love, cuddles and so much more from Marlen and the rest of her colleagues at her Qurum-based office.
“I honestly don’t know why people would leave their pets behind and go. It is not fair to just leave a pet like that and go away. I have never had the opportunity to meet someone who has left their pets, but if I do, I will definitely ask them why they are doing this. I have seen so many abandoned animals in different cases of distress, and it is hard to not feel sorry for them,” said Marlen.
Marlen shared with us the pathetic conditions of pets that had been left to fend for themselves on the streets.
“Many of them stay near the coffee shops or restaurants, because they think that they will be able to get some food from there, and they will be able to eat that,” she revealed.
“So many people pass by these restaurants, but nobody bothers to pay them any attention. Some of them have their skin peeling and their hair matted. They have eye infections and skin diseases with their teeth falling out. It is really a sorry condition that they are in. Many of the animals that you see on the roads once they are abandoned do not know how to fend for themselves or survive because they are domesticated creatures and they do not know how to hunt or find food,” explained Marlen.
“They either die because they cannot find food, or because they fall sick, or are attacked by stray and feral animals. A pet is a responsibility that you must be prepared for. If you cannot handle the responsibility, then don’t get one in the first place,” asserted Marlen.
While Marlen’s house in Oman is home to a cat, Tanvi Mohindra, an Indian expat in Oman, opened her home and heart to a loving 13-year-old golden retriever named Leo. Tanvi and her family have selflessly fostered several dogs in her home, and having found good homes for so many of them she says that the one thing all of these innocent animals long for is love, an emotion that their previous families simply didn’t give them.
Like Marlen and Jaison, Tanvi’s sincere message to those who are not ready for the long-term responsibility of having a pet is clear...if you are not prepared to wholeheartedly accept a pet into your life, then do not take one into your home. She said that a number of families had chosen to part company with their pets once they had either fallen sick, or when they’d gotten bored of the pets.
“You are trying to give a pet a life because that pet has nowhere to go, and you take care of it until you are able to find them a home,” she explained. “Yes, you get attached to them very quickly, and you find it hard to let them go, but I feel is that way you are giving them better homes. I had a dog of my own which passed away, and it is very difficult to go through that emotion. I therefore decided that I would foster dogs.”
Tanvi added: “Even if people cannot keep pets forever, at least give them a home for some time by fostering these animals. The whole idea of fostering is that it is tough, but you have to give them away. Once you do that regularly you get used to it, and you will definitely think that the animal is going to be in a better place.”
However, Tanvi said that fostering a dog in one’s home is only half the challenge. The other half of the process involved finding a good home for the animal to move to, a responsibility that was all the more important, given that the animal in question was likely to spend the rest of its life with its new family, and the last thing you want as a fosterer is the guilt of sending an animal to home that is not conducive for it.
She also shared examples of fosters that had gone wrong because fosterers did not follow up with the new owners of the pet, and that was what spurred her to ensure good homes were found for all the pets she fostered.
“You have ensure the pet goes to a good forever home,” she insisted. “You have to meet them, talk to them and even go to the extent of visiting the place. Ask them as many questions. A good thing would be to have a form they fill in and sign some sort of consent which says that if the new owners are going out of the country, then they will not just abandon the animal.
“You also need to visit the house of the person who is taking the animal once he has moved into his new house, to see if everything is fine. If you want the responsibility of fostering an animal, then you have to go all the way, you cannot just do a half-hearted job. You need to know who has the animal and how that person is treating the pet,” she added.
Tanvi was eager to share an example of a foster that had been lovingly raised from the time she’d joined her fosterers, who went through great measures to ensure that the dog had found the perfect forever home. However, once the owner had taken charge of the dog, he stopped communicating with the fosterer, and after a while, cut off all contact, which made it difficult to enquire about the canine’s welfare.
The more thorough the investigation into finding a good forever home, the lesser the chances of these things happening. However, she added that incidents like this did occur from time to time, despite the best intentions and precautions taken by foster parents.
“There was a dog who was taken in, because her previous owners had said they didn’t want her anymore,” she recalled. “This fosterer was very kind to take her in, because this was a puppy from the street. A lot of people will not adopt such a dog because their tendency is to opt for a trained dog. Trained dogs have an easier time finding a home.
“This dog was given to another family, and they refused to reveal their information or the whereabouts of the dog, and I felt so bad when I heard this. When I try to find a home for a dog, I will definitely give it to someone I can know and trust. It is important to know that the dog is in a better place and is doing well.”
Tanvi said that while fosterers did find it emotionally hard to give up dogs, what kept them going was the ability to pass on their love to another animal that would soon need their help. Dog lovers particularly would find it hard to give up their loved ones, but she said that this was an expected part of fostering. A bit of practicality was important.
A long-term resident of Oman, Tanvi went to school in Oman before finding work here. Her latest foster, Leo, was found abandoned in Madinat Qaboos, and although he too was only meant to be a temporary addition to Tanvi and her family, Leo’s loving nature meant he’d found a permanent place not just in her heart, but in her home as well.
“He was found abandoned by a friend of mine, and his family said they didn’t want him anymore,” she admitted. “He was outside in the heat, he was not being taken care of, his hair was matted, he had ear infections, and he was in a very bad shape. They would just throw leftover food at him for him to eat, and a caretaker was around to just spray some water on him. I didn’t even know if his name was Leo initially, but the caretaker used to call him something like that. He was taken to the vet, shaved completely, and his infection was so bad that I cannot even describe. His skin was so bad – golden retrievers normally have gorgeous hair – but his skin was damaged, and he was really depressed.”
When Tanvi took Leo in, he didn’t know what love was, he didn’t know how to react to love. He would just lie there, depressed. It took him a good year to come out of his shell. He has been with us for three years now.
“The Leo that you see now is a completely changed dog,” she said. “He is so active, so jumpy, he is happy now. I am glad that I am able to give him that.
“I don’t know how anyone can abandon their pet. If you are unable to take the pet with you, have the responsibility to find a home. People think that just because you don’t have a voice, it makes it okay to abandon them because they won’t say anything. But tell me this, if you had to abandon your child, what would he say, and more importantly, would you do so? You must treat your pets that way,” said Tanvi. – [email protected]
Travelling with pets on Oman Air
Oman Air has provided several guidelines for people who need to take their pets with them. They have been listed here for you:
1. Pets are not allowed in the cabin – they must be registered as checked-in baggage.
2. Pets can travel as checked-in baggage and will be placed in a ventilated part of the aircraft. Pet carriers must comply with IATA rules.
3. Oman Air accepts a maximum of two pets per guest as checked-in baggage.
4.The pets are to be of the following specifications:
a. The total weight of the pet and kennel must not exceed 75kg
b. Two adult animals that are compatible and of comparable size of up to 14kg each can be carried
c. Three animals of up to six months old from the same litter,
not weighing more than 14 kg each
5. Reservations must be made through ticketing offices or telephone. Oman Air advises contacting them 24 hours after ticket bookings have been made, since there is only a limited room for pet carriers.
Pet carrier dimensions for Oman Air
If you are travelling on Oman Air, here are the dimensions listed for you. Most airlines will have similar regulations since they are expecting to follow IATA standards, but please check with individual airlines before travelling with a pet.
When transporting your pet as check-in baggage, its kennel needs to comply with several rules:
1. The carrier must have a fibreglass or rigid plastic shell. Wooden, metal bar or welded wire mesh carriers are not allowed.
2. The wheels must be removed or if retractable they must be taken off or blocked with duct tape.
3. The door must have a centralised locking system which fastens both locks on top and at the bottom of the door.
4. The door hinge and locking pins must engage the container by at least 1.6cm (5/8 in.) beyond the horizontal extrusions above and below the door opening where the pins are fitted.
5. The two parts of the kennel must be joined by bolts. Any other locking system is strictly forbidden.
6. The kennel must be large enough for your pet to stand up without touching the top; to be able to turn around easily and to lie down in a natural position.
7. The kennel must have a blanket, newspaper, or other absorbent material on floor. Please note that straw is not allowed.