JEDDAH: Pet therapy is a relatively new concept in Saudi Arabia, but the fact that it has been widely adopted and supported suggests that it is something that was badly needed.
DJ Kennels, which was established in Jeddah in 2017, is an animal shelter that is home to abandoned pets and even rescued wild animals. Residents of this mini animal park include dogs, cats, rabbits, owls, hyenas, and even a lion.
For many of the city’s animal lovers, DJ Kennels provides the perfect opportunity for some much-needed animal therapy, especially after the closure of other animal sanctuaries such as Al-Anaam Al-Jameela and Fayfa Park.
Pet therapy is just one of the services offered by DJ Kennels. He also manages animal adoptions, a pet hotel, volunteer opportunities, and animal rescue services, among others. They also welcome pets whose owners can no longer care for them, and train them if necessary so that they can be put up for adoption.
Mahmoud Azzam, the owner of the kennel, told Arab News that it all started as a hobby.
âI saw a huge demand for services like animal parks and petting zoos, and that’s how this hobby turned into a business,â he said. “At the same time, it is viewed as community service with financial return.”
The refuge is an ever-changing environment, he added, “as much of the park is set aside for rescued animals such as lions, hyenas and owls, so we don’t know what we’ll find tomorrow in our door “.
He said the National Center for the Development of Wildlife is the main Saudi government organization responsible for animal welfare issues and does a good job taking care of exotic animals.
“This is why we urge people to speak with them first,” he added.
In this official setting, DJ Kennels is determined to provide all the help he can get, and Azzam explained how he ended up caring for a lion.
âIt was (unfortunately) bought illegally but the owner felt guilty and decided to put it here,â he said. âHe contacted us to help the little one. His state of health was very bad; he could not walk and ate poorly. We decided to send him to a reserve in Africa, but the pandemic struck and the flights were blocked. Fortunately, the flights have now resumed and we are working with the authorities on the transport procedures. “
Other unusual residents of the refuge include two owls.
âOne of them was captured in the wild and the other was bought illegally,â Azzam said. âThey cannot be released into the wild because they both have permanent disabilities. So we tried to create a similar environment for them to live here.
Azzam’s daughter Jumana, 10, said she shares her father’s love for animals and it started when she was two.
âI owned a dog at the time,â she said. âWe had horses and camels at DJ Kennels but they were sent to stables. I hope the horses will come back. I also told my dad that it would be nice to have colorful parrots in the park.
Shahd Ali, a visitor to the shelter, told Arab News that she goes there regularly with her siblings “because they love to interact with animals and I think it’s hard to find a place that offers these services in Jeddah. I hope there will be more diversity of animals and more organizations.
Azzam said that when he decided to open the shelter to visitors, he was aware that studies have shown that interaction with animals can have beneficial effects on many people, especially those with special needs. including autism.
âAn autistic child gets the animal’s attention,â he explains. “Especially dogs, because dogs have the advantage of knowing how to care for autistic patients.”
Azzam added that patients should check with their healthcare providers first if it is safe for them to interact with animals, but more often than not, he said, specialists recommend a visit as form of therapy that can help people with autism. The service is free for people with special needs.
While the shelter resonates with the sounds of delighted cries of children, the joyful barking of dogs and the contented purr of cats, the stories of animals cared for by DJ Kennels are often tinged with sadness.
Some people just give up on their pets, Azzam said. The shelter welcomes them and, if necessary, trains them to socialize and re-trust humans so that they can be put up for adoption and find a new home forever. Because pets have already suffered trauma when they were abandoned, DJ Kennels carefully assesses and thoroughly examines potential adopters before agreeing to hand over an animal.
âWe offer full dog training services, and when it comes to dog adoption, we give dogs social classes to make sure they are harmless to their new owner,â Azzam said. âWe only give the animal to a person capable of owning a dog after an analysis of the adoptive’s living conditions.
Owning an animal shelter like DJ Kennels might sound like a great job from the outside, but it takes a lot of time and effort on the part of the owners and staff to keep it running. Moreover, these shelters are not lucrative businesses and the income is not enough to cover veterinary bills, Azzam said, but he hopes that may change in the future.
He also called for volunteers to join his team, given that one of the goals of Saudi Vision 2030 is to raise awareness of volunteerism and increase the number of volunteers in the country to 1 million by 2030.
âMany young people in the community have knowledge, time and effort to give, especially energetic young people, and we are not taking full advantage of it,â Azzam said.
Although the traditional view among many in the region was that dog ownership is prohibited because some religious texts describe them as unclean, attitudes are slowly changing.
âI believe in different opinions and advise people who think dogs are unclean to consult different approved religious and legal opinions,â Azzam said. âPeople are the enemies of what they don’t know. With more shelters and businesses like ours, people have started to learn more about animals and to accept them more. “