Mhairi Murphy catches up with the ‘Cat Ladies of Qatar’ and discovers how they individually and collectively connect to make a difference in the community


Cats in Qatar … whether you love them or loath them; you can’t get away from them. Perhaps yours is a well-fed indoor cat that’s content to snuggle in the comfort of your lap. Or a lazy sunbathing cat that you pass as you walk through a park, perhaps a curious cat that watches you intently while you are having an alfresco meal.

Our daily contact with cats in Qatar is constant, casually scroll through the many social media sites, and there they are staring right back at you. An endless stream of wide eyed, cute little bundles of love, performing for the camera; either tugging at the heart strings of your social conscience or bringing a little joy into your day.

However, look a little deeper and you will see that many of the cats in Qatar are not so fortunate. You cannot help but notice the legion of starving skeletal creatures, that live either in or around dumpsters. Cats that have been abandoned by their owners, cats caught in car engines, cats that are severely injured, dehydrated or worse than all of these. Little bundles of fur discarded by the road side. Too many graphic images now regularly bombard us on local media streams, usually accompanied by genuine pleas for help, or a forever home.

This is the un-filtered reality, and that’s why the collective community of Cat Ladies in Qatar do such an amazing job.

Throughout history cats have been cherished, admired and held in high esteem. According to many hadiths* (Arabic narratives or accounts), the Prophet Mohammad prohibited the persecution and killing of cats. It is recorded that upon hearing the call to prayer, he noticed that his female cat called Muezza was sleeping on his prayer robe, and rather than wake his favourite cat up, he simply cut off the sleeve of his robe and went to pray.

For those of us who are fortunate enough to reside in Qatar, we enjoy as a result of its unique geography, desert and shoreline, a bountiful array of wildlife; mammals, reptiles, aquatic animals and of course beautiful birds.

But it was the sudden population increase of a particular mammal *Rattus norvegicus, (The brown rat, also referred to as the common rat, street rat or sewer rat), that resulted in cats being introduced to Qatar during the early 1960s (BMC Veterinary Research BMC series – 2017). Given that cats have worked as the worlds furriest exterminators for thousands of years, who could be better to combat this sudden spike in Qatar’s rodent problem.

Unfortunately, these cats were not spayed, neutered or vaccinated and were able to breed freely. Consequently, Qatar’s cat population started to escalate.
Many countries have adopted this method of natural pest control and continue to do so, but in a controlled manner. Chicago, affectionately known as the rattiest city in the USA, decided that enough was enough. Overrun with rats, they were spurred into action. Chicago put their stray cats to work, the Tree House* organisers started the “Cat’s at Work Project” five years ago and it has been a huge success.

All cats that participate in this project have passed through the Tree House TNR (Trap, Neuter, Release) programme, so the cats helping to keep the Chicago rats at bay … do just that.

Paul Nickerson, who manages the programme says, “It’s the cats that are the real winners in this programme.” But the city of Chicago wins too, rats are rare and the stray cat population is a stable one.

Qatar’s stray cat population is unfortunately increasing, and many assume incorrectly that this is due to un-checked feral breeding. The root cause of the increasing cat population in Qatar is actually a toxic mix of mother nature, the practice of importing exotic cats, breeding for profit and sadly cat owners who have had to leave Qatar.

Najat has lost count of how many cats she has saved, re-homed and had treated at vets, but vows to keep helping them until her last breath.

Many expats who have had to leave Qatar often face a moral dilemma, perhaps unable to find a new home for their beloved pet, or afford the high travel costs levied to take their domestic cats back to their home country. Due to the recent economic downturn, pet owners now face a barrage of unexpected hurdles, employment termination, necessary relocation and ultimately the future they face is uncertain. Priorities shift like sand and any money that has been saved is suddenly due to necessity allocated elsewhere. Short notice to leave Qatar is also an issue, the international requirements for pet vaccinations take time, and are necessary before your pet can be exported. So, many owners are faced with the final option that all cat owners fear … euthanasia. Unfortunately, more and more owners seem unable to take that step, simply releasing their cats into the wild.
Certainly, this decision is easier for their own conscience but adds an additional burden to an already heavy load. Suddenly cats that have been happily ensconced in a loving home, with air-conditioning and regular food are thrown into what is an alien and often aggressive feral existence.

A life of domesticity can result in essential hunting skills being bred out. Therefore, these cats are unable to defend themselves or hunt to secure food; eventually succumbing to the harsh local climate and endure a long and painful death. I do wonder how the owners who made the decision to let their cat run free, would feel, knowing truly what sort of life they gave their treasured pets as a parting gift.

This is where the wonderful cat ladies of Qatar have stepped in and stepped up! Across all cultures and unable to avert their eyes from what is a real and growing problem. These locally-based ladies have worked tirelessly to create a supportive volunteer based community, to try to work humanely towards a resolution for Qatar’s growing cat problem.
This action can take many forms but no matter how small or large each act is, all are a testament to the shared passion that they have, to save as many cats as possible.

Some ladies selflessly feed, foster, rescue and re-home the cats that they find, or indeed as is becoming more frequent, the cats that are dumped at their doors. Many ladies regularly volunteer at one or more of the many established non-profit voluntary cat focused groups, such as TNR Qatar (https://www.facebook.com/TNRQatar) or PAWS (www.pawsrescueqatar.com).

Others are individuals who feel so motivated, that they create their own cat community such as Najat Bassil, a Moroccan journalist who has been a Qatar resident since 2007, founder of “Cats Free For Adoption in Qatar”.

Najat, like many people has opened her heart and purse to help the cats that come to her. She has lost count of how many cats she has saved, re-homed and had treated at vets, but vows to keep helping where she can, until her last breath. A true Cat Lady.

To further compound this already herculean communal effort, the harsh reality is, that many of the organisations that the cat community have work so hard to create, are normally woefully underfunded.

Presently, these locally-run volunteer organisations are not official charities and therefore most have to rely heavily on volunteers and well-wishers.

Underfunding is a continual up-hill battle, and donating can take many forms, time, food, or perhaps volunteering at community focused events. Each is essential to ensure that these cat life lines are maintained. Living costs, medical costs, emergency vet’s bills all come at a price, the truth is that without the continued support from the Qatar cat community many of these organisations simply would not survive.

Previously the Ministry of Environment has carried out extensive campaigns to catch stray cats in Doha. But history has shown that each time cats are removed, the population will rebound via a natural phenomenon known as the “vacuum effect,” drawing the host community into a costly, endless cycle of trapping and re-locating.

On a positive note, Qatar’s approach to its cat problem seems to be moving the right direction. The Government Veterinary Clinic provides a free TNR service to all cats. Wouldn’t it be lovely if perhaps the many private veterinary practices were to offer the same free service?

Dubai veterinary clinics offer FREE TNR service one day a week, and in doing so not only help the community but also boost awareness for their own practices. A little bit of Cat Karma.

TNR offers a more humane option to stabilise stray cat population and also prevents the spread of disease. People in general don’t want cats rounded up and removed. TNR balances the needs and concerns of the communities in which many feral cats live. With TNR, adult cats (spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and ear tipped) are returned to their colonies to live out their lives in their outdoor homes. A win-win situation for all.

Although Qatar has a very active cat community, and many volunteer organisations seem to operate independently, they are all in constant contact and share one voice when it comes to what we need to do next.

1. Spay and neuter your pets, this stops un-planned and un-professional breeding.
2. Support TNR within Qatar.
3. Make owners truly responsible for their pets, microchipping is a start but a cat is for life, not just a contract.
4. Have a cat contingency fund set aside, ready to fund your pets’ relocation, do the research and if needed, contact PAWS and they will re-home your pet until its able to fly back to you.
5. Keep your cat’s vaccinations/pet passport up to date – it will make a move easier to organise.
Together we can make a difference. Whilst the Cat Ladies of Qatar have helped and continue to work tirelessly to humanely reduce the growing number of cats in Qatar. A helping hand is always welcome, no effort is too small, by helping them you are helping the cats and your community … let’s move forward together.

After all many paws make light work

NB: Tree House is part of a growing number of shelters who are promoting Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) as the most effective way to control the stray and feral population of cats. www.treehouseanimals.org

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