A Qatar-based animal rescue and shelter has warned that there could be a surge in abandoned pets in the emirate as an economic downturn as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to many foreign expats and their families leaving at short notice. Expatriates make up 90 percent of Qatar's 2.75 million population. Major employers including Qatar Petroleum and Qatar Airways have warned of sweeping cuts to staff numbers as a result of the economic slow-down.
Paws animal shelter co-founder Alison Caldwell said: "We're expecting a wave of emails and phone calls to say, 'Help'. We've had a few of those already."
"There's nothing we can do, really," Caldwell said as the shelter has capacity for just 60 cats and 30 dogs. Although there are no official statistics on stray animals in Qatar, Paws estimates they could be in the tens of thousands. Abandoned and stray animals are particularly vulnerable to the summer temperatures which can reach 50 degree Centigrade. Images of animal abuse, including animals being shot with airguns, are also common on social media.
AFP reported how one dog, Izzy who is currently with a foster family while a German family who agreed to adopt her are waiting for commercial flights to resume. Paws also uses "flight buddies" – volunteer passengers who carry animals to their future homes as excess luggage. It costs just over $300, compared to $1,600 to send the pets via air freight – but for the system to work, passengers need to be able to travel freely and frequently.
Paws was founded seven years ago by two British expats and has since helped rehome 1,000 animals, many overseas. It witnessed an influx of animals in the early days of the pandemic from misinformed owners who feared their pets could spread the virus. The not-for-profit depends on donations and a mostly volunteer workforce, as well as revenue from its kennelling service. They have also been running a monthly virtual quiz to help contribute to fundraising efforts.