07/04/2009 11:04 PM
Dubai: Having faced a certain amount of prejudice for being an Emirati animal lover, Abu Dhabi resident Afra Al Daheri, 22, is pushing for more awareness by residents and the government to support animal welfare.
The business and IT student has earned a scholarship to study veterinarian medicine abroad but with her six dogs and five cats, leaving the country seems impossible right now.
"I see so many adverts from people looking for new homes for their animals, or who need someone to look after them over the summer, but they always ask for a 'European' family," said Afra.
"I want to help where I can, but when I call to offer help, or to home their pet for the summer, the first thing I'm asked is, 'Where are you from?' and once I say 'Emirati' it's 'No thank you'."
Emiratis and Arabs have gained a bad reputation when it comes to animal welfare, however the problem is worldwide with welfare groups set up globally, said Afra.
Having grown up in Abu Dhabi, she faces the same problems as all pet owners - banned from parks and beaches, hotels, restaurants and malls, as long as her dogs are in tow.
"The UAE is not an animal-friendly country. There is a lack of awareness. Ideally I'd like to start a government welfare body for animals," she said.
Afra contacted several government authorities in the capital and while some shut her down, others gave her hope.
"I have to find 20 Emiratis who would be willing to man a shelter voluntarily seven days a week. At the moment I have 13, from friends to others who have found my Facebook group - UAE pet lovers."
Afra plans to spread a lot more awareness among school children and adults through a competition being held in Dubai on October 23.
The Miss Ambassador with a Voice for Animals (Miss AVA) contest is being organised in support of K9 Friends and Feline Friends by two sisters, Sarita Barnett and Janice Shaw at the Grand Hyatt, Dubai. A beauty pageant will line up competitors to walk off with the title and the task of spreading more awareness about animal abuse in the UAE.
"My whole life is about animals, I want to work harder to help protect animals," said Afra, who will not take part in the pageant but is ready to give her time to the cause.
The state of pet shops and animal souqs is of particular concern to Afra who worked with the Strays of Abu Dhabi animal group.
She rescued one of her three Yorkshire terriers from a pet shop.
"It was being kept in a bird cage, it was underweight and in a terrible state."
She also tries to educate her friends, some of whom have tigers and post photos of them on her Facebook group page. "It wasn't well received," she said.
Beauty pageant: Are you Dubai's future Miss AVA?
If you want to participate or reserve a seat to attend the pageant, contact Sarita Barnett by email: email@example.com or call 050 657 8784.
The organisers are still looking for more judges and sponsors. Those interested may also contact Barnett.