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The Dogfather – Animal Hero of Bahrain

Jenny Green reports on the work of Tony Waters, the animal hero of Bahrain

Tony Waters is a British expatriate who has been living in Bahrain for over thirty years. He originally arrived to set up a chain of hair dressing salons, however, his life has turned out very differently; his daughter began rescuing stray animals from the cruel streets of Bahrain, and from those acts of kindness three decades ago, Bahrain’s only no kill animal rescue centre was born. The “Tony the Dogfather – Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre” became official in 1995.

Animal welfare laws in Bahrain

In Islam, the mistreatment of an animal is considered a sin. The Quran and many examples from the Hadith clearly forbid animal cruelty. Only recently, in 2014, did Bahrain pass the Gulf Co-operation Council States of the Arabian Gulf States (the GCC) Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Law, falling in line with the other GCC member states who are similarly new to the concept of a criminal law to protect animals.

Three years on, despite this criminal law and the ancient religious law, there is no actual enforcement of the animal welfare/ protection laws in Bahrain. Indeed, the attitude here is that animals are dirty and
dangerous. The government’s strategy for resolving the stray dog situation, for example, is to shoot them. Over the years, this has caused a public outcry from the various expat communities, and so authorities then switched to catching the dogs and removing them, making it look like a humane strategy, but then taking them out into the desert and abandoning them there to die of thirst where no one could see.

Why are animals treated so badly?

There are many socio-cultural problems that compound the stray situation. For example, it’s an accepted norm for people to throw rubbish from their moving vehicles, which of course lands in the roads. Stray animals then approach this rubbish, looking for food; the act of which has them deemed as hazardous to traffic.

The refuse situation is also a problem; there are insufficient communal bins supplied to the public on the streets, and so every block has an almost continuously over-full rubbish trolley where, in between the too few bin collection rounds, rubbish becomes piled up in great heaps. This of course attracts hungry strays, who then get blamed for the mess when they pull open bin bags, and are vilified for supposedly spreading disease. The farcical inability of the governing agencies to join the dots on such matters is shocking.

The rescue centre

At the Dogfather centre, literally thousands of animals have been saved over the years. Indeed, last month alone saw twenty-five kittens dumped at the front gate. Tony and his small team of staff are currently caring for a vast number of animals, including two hundred cats, two hundred dogs, thirty birds, three monkeys, two goats, and one rabbit.

Most of the animals that Tony has saved came from extreme neglect and cruelty cases. The lucky ones are just homeless little souls picked up off the streets, but the majority have been the victims of humans.

There is a dog who was thrown off of a balcony. His front forelegs were completely smashed. He is safe now at Tony’s, but is of course completely petrified of humans, only trusting Tony. He hobbles along on his back legs, carrying his broken front forelegs, and using his elbows. His name is Grasshopper, and he is loved. Grasshopper has been vet assessed and he is not in pain — there is no feeling in his front forelegs. A double amputation is very risky, and would leave him with less mobility.

Grasshopper is not the only crippled animal at the centre. Sledge the cat has permanently splayed back legs owing to a historical case of severely broken bones; she was found like that and her story is unknown. Balance is a little cat who walks on her front legs with her back end completely off the ground, up in the air. She was dumped outside the centre’s gates. Another cat, Twolegon, as in ‘two leg on’, has had a double amputation after he was found dumped with both back legs irreparably broken.

The importance of education

Over the years, as well as rescuing and caring for the animals, Tony has run education programs at the centre and visited schools nationwide to raise awareness of the plight of Bahraini animals and to teach children about kindness and the necessity of animal welfare. He is also lobbying for animal welfare and protection laws to be introduced, which is no small task in such a country.

In 2015, Tony was diagnosed with cancer. He has been receiving treatment sporadically; his children in America send him the money for his treatment, but more than once Tony has used those instalments to buy animal food and pay his staff their wages.

Tony gave his businesses up long ago to focus on saving animals. The centre relies on the income made from the Dogfather second hand charity shop, fundraising events and donations to operate. The dwindling expat community means Tony’s supporters are fewer than ever and he is facing ever greater struggles to keep the animals fed and safe. All this on top of dealing with cancer. You can help Tony meet the running costs of the centre by donating from anywhere in the world.

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