Maryam al-Balushi, an animal lover from Muscat, in Oman, shares her house with 480 cats, most of which were strays, and 12 dogs, spending almost $8,000 a month on food and vet bills for them.
The 51-year-old retired civil servant might seem like a life-long animal lover, but the truth is she hasn’t always been fond of them. It all started in 2008, when her son brought home a small Persian cat as a pet, which al-Balushi wasn’t at all thrilled about, especially since her son didn’t really take care of it.
As time went by, Maryam started getting used to her feline pet, and eventually they became inseparable. In 2011, Maryam al-Balushi went through a severe depression, and she credits her first cat for helping her through that difficult period. In the years th[b]at followed, she dedicated herself to helping stray cats and taking them into her home.[/b]
“It all began in 2008 when my son bought a small Persian cat,” al-Balushi recently told AFP. “Like many mothers, I refused to look after it as I did not like animals and my son did not pay it much attention or look after its hygiene, but soon I found myself totally immersed. I took care of her entirely, feeding her, bathing her and spending a lot of time with her.”
The first strays she took in started mating, and before she knew it, Maryam already had 23 cats and kittens. But that didn’t bother her. If anything, it only made her want to take in more cats off the streets, which is exactly how she ended up sharing her home with almost 500 of them.
“God gave man the mind, with which he can think, and the tongue, so that if he is sick, he can seek treatment, and if he is hungry, he can ask for food, but the animal is silent and cannot not speak, even if it is in mortal danger,” Maryam al-Balushi explained.
“Official and civil institutions and governments provide their services and donations to people, but there is no party that cares about the poor animals that don’t not have any voice, or any party to provide them with assistance, and there are also no laws that protect them, especially in the Gulf countries.”
In the beginning, Maryam took care of the felines all by herself, as there was no one to help her. In fact, neighbors only made things difficult, by denouncing her to Muscat authorities for having so many pets. She got her own home in 2014, following complaints about her growing menagerie, and she was able to take in even more cats.
When she was still working, she would rush home to feed her pets and make sure they were ok, but now she dedicates all her time to them. al-Balushi didn’t receive any financial support either, and taking care of so many pets became very expensive. She was more than happy to bear all the costs, but then she started posting photos on social media platforms like Instagram and found many likeminded animal lovers who were more than willing to donate to her cause.
Today, Maryam al-Balushi spends around $7,800 every month on food and care for her 480 cats and 12 dogs, much of which is covered through donations from her fans and supporters.
“My message to the community is to treat animals with compassion,” Maryam said. “Some people do not want them in their homes, they do not want them in their gardens, they do not want them near their cars, and they do not want them near the litter box, so where should they go? How will they eat? I ask these people: Was the earth created for us alone, or did God’s creatures share the earth and its bounties with us? So I say: Have mercy, have mercy, and when you do that, you will have done it because it is a moral and human duty that we must offer to everyone who lives on this planet.”