By Elham Al Dhaheri
ABU DHABI // Three years ago, Bahya Sanctuary was a regular farm, with a few plants and palm trees. Now it has several animal enclosures and is home to more than 70 cats, about 10 dogs, five donkeys, two ponies and three desert hedgehogs.
The environment is animal friendly, with large areas for the animals to roam free.
Gogem Artug, from Turkey, came up with the idea to create an animal sanctuary. After rescuing animals from a building site near Emirates Palace hotel, she was able to convince her brother-in-law, an Emirati, to use his farm as a home for them.
“Without him, this place would not exist” said Ms Artug.
She said she feared that had she not rescued the cats from the construction site, they would have been buried under debris.
The sanctuary has a team of volunteers who work to create a better place for rescued animals. Their motto is “Until all Allah’s creations are loved and respected”. “We don’t believe in breeding, selling and buying animals,” Ms Artug said. “We only help in adopting.”
The sanctuary is looking for people who will care for the animals as adopted family members. They try to pair the right animal with the right family, depending on the family’s lifestyle.
“All the mammals may not be like humans, but they all suffer,” Ms Artug said. “If they are not loved or have not been taken care of they suffer. So we try to find the best match.”
The sanctuary is open on the second Saturday of each month. Visitors usually come to escape the city and enjoy the atmosphere at the farm, where families can enjoy the animals and teach their children to interact with them.
People also enjoy hearing the stories behind each animal’s rescue.
Snow, a husky, was found in the middle of the night by Ms Artug and a volunteer, Stephanie Damm, a German. They did not know whether they had the money to rescue the dog, or even if there was a veterinarian available at that hour.
Eventually they found one and donations started to come in from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. Consequently there was enough money to save Snow’s life and support him into the future.
The sanctuary is largely supported by donations.
“It is amazing how when everybody chips in a little bit, how the hearts and minds join in changing the lives of these animals,” Ms Artug said.
Bahya now has partnerships with vets, who offer discounts.
The sanctuary plans to work with a group of German volunteers, who will offer classes at the farm. They will teach students about animals, emphasising that the animals are not to be treated as toys.
“It has been an amazing journey and we are learning day by day,” Ms Artug said. “We will keep on it and see how it goes.”
Jamal Al Muhairi, 34, a recent visitor to the sanctuary, said he admired the team’s work.
“The whole idea is just beautiful,” he said.
“I came across their page on Facebook and thought ‘why not give them a visit’?
“I never knew my 18-month-old son was into animals. I am actually thinking of adopting one of their dogs.”