When Kremena Ivanova moved to a new home four years ago, little did she know that by opening its door she would be crossing the threshold to her new role in life – that of foster mother to the emirate’s stray cats.
It started simply enough. The Dubai villa where the Bulgarian personal trainer was setting up her new home came with several resident cats left by the previous owner that she was required to adopt.
Then the family grew when one of the cats gave birth to three kittens in her garden. Ms Ivanova took the animals to the vet and re-homed them. And that’s when things got complicated.
Since then, she has found homes for more than 40 abandoned cats and neutered more than a hundred others that were too wild to be domesticated. A year ago, she gave a name to her effort – 38 Smiles – and now keeps in touch with an informal network of collaborators through Facebook and a dedicated webpage.
“My parents always told me that I always choose the hard way and I never do things half-heartedly, so I am not surprised by myself,” she said.
Mrs Ivanova now has 10 cats, some of which live outside of her house, as well as three kittens she is hoping to re-home and a dog. The monthly budget needed to keep the animals and take care of new cases varies between Dh3,000 and Dh5,000, which she pays for herself, although sometimes friends and well-wishers help
Besides using the internet to recruit potential new cat and dog owners, Mrs Ivanova organises adoption days – one of which is planned for November 24 at the Pet Zone Clinic on Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai.
For now, she prefers to keep her effort small so she can ensure every animal receives proper care and ends up with a good owner. Before new owners can adopt an animal, she asks them to fill out an adoption questionnaire stating their previous experience with animals, their budget for pet care and other details.
“The whole process can take up to a week,” she said. “If all is fine, I meet them at the veterinary clinic where the cat has a final check-up because I want them to be sure they are getting a healthy cat.”
She also insists that would-be owners sign adoption contracts. One condition is that if they are expatriates, they promise to take the animal with them when they leave the UAE.
“The contract does not have any legal value but when you tell people they have to sign, it makes them really think whether they are ready to take this step.”
She said lack of commitment was one of the main reasons why there are so many stray cats and dogs in the UAE.
“There are stray animals all over the world but in the UAE people contribute especially to this,” she said.
Many people buy kittens and puppies from pet shops only to lose enthusiasm for them once they are older. Expatriates too often leave pets behind when they relocate.
“This is why you find Persian cats on the street,” she said. “I once re-homed a German shepherd and a miniature pincher. These are purebred animals – you do not find them on the street unless someone has kicked them away.”