I Built a Zoo!

I Built a Zoo!

15 Aug 2013

Ahlan! meets Laura Glanfield who sacrificed her marriage for her love of animals

“It all began on Christmas Eve, 1998 with a kitten I found on Sheikh Zayed Road,” said Laura Glanfield. “I called her Eve, took her home and fed her up, then found her a home via Dubizzle. It seemed so simple and effective and I realised the animals of Dubai needed help, and that I could provide it.”

Laura, 44, was working as an estate agent for Better Homes and started rescuing dogs, taking care of them and then finding them new homes.

“It worked really well; labourers would bring me the animals they found, I would feed them up then find homes for them,” she said.

Laura was soon inundated with creatures. She was loving it. But her husband David wasn’t. “As happy as I was having found something I really loved, my husband at the time wasn’t,” she said. “One day he drove into our drive, took a look at just how many puppies we had in the garden and drove straight out again. He did come back, but we split up soon after that. He hated animals. There was no choice. We were having problems anyway! But if I had to choose again between him and the animals, it would be the animals.”

It was then that the newly single Laura – pictured here with her arm in plaster after an ice skating accident – decided to devote her life to animals.

She went back to her native UK – she grew up in Preston in Lancashire – to do a dog grooming course before returning to the UAE to set up a business, Poshpaws, in Sharjah. The grooming company, coupled with kennels and a cattery allowed her to start rescuing animals again. She cared for them on a spare patch of land next to her house. Things grew, and in 2009 she opened a petting farm for the public in Sharjah and moved to Dubai, near Mirdif, a year and a half ago.

Since moving to Dubai 17 years ago to work as cabin crew for Gulf Air, Laura now has well over 100 animals, including five baboons – one of which was found in a stable, another she was called to Rashidiya to see, only to discover had been tethered for so long that it had a leather belt embedded in its body. Then there’s the wallaby that was dumped outside the Australian school in Sharjah, and Arnie the armadillo, who grew too big for his owner.

Add to that three ostriches, six fallow deer (including a new baby), 20 stray dogs and a similar number of cats, seven ponies, around 60 ducks, umpteen rabbits and hamsters and a handful of giant tortoises and terrapins and Laura has her hands full.

Until recently she also had a three-legged donkey, Wonky, who was found beside a road in Ras Al Khaimah after a collision with a car. Laura, had his mangled leg removed and he lived happily until having to be put to sleep due to old age.

There’s also an emu, Ozzie, and his mate, who remains nameless. “This one was donated as the owner didn’t want him anymore,” says Laura. “Then I bought him a mate as I really don’t like animals being alone.”
Bluebell the black great Dane, who towers over the string of miniature ponies, is also a resident. Most of those ponies were found starving and abandoned in Sharjah. Their hooves had grown up like little Turkish slippers. After gradual corrective hoof trimming and lots of good food they’re now well enough to do mini pony rides, be led out for walks and enjoy hours of pampering and grooming.

Laura, who has two children, Isabelle, 10 and Harry, 5, also has a parrot house filled with colourful birds. “People seem to buy parrots and not realise how complex these birds are,” said Laura. “We have ones that attacked husbands, others found in bins still in their cages and some who became sick and were dumped.”

Some dogs and cats became residents when their owners checked them into the kennels but never returned, others Laura found, while some have been handed to her by people who have heard about her endeavours. Just a few days ago a bulldog was left at her gate – Laura turns none away. One lady was leaving town and brought a Persian cat that she didn’t want any more.

“I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t do this” says Laura, who admits she loves the film We Bought a Zoo. “It’s exactly the same. You do not know how you get into it but one thing leads to another. I have a passion for animals. It’s a sense of responsibility. You can see when an animal needs help.”

Laura takes some of her animals to birthday parties and schools across the UAE, while others remain at the farm to meet visitors. She now has two staff now plus somebody who helps with the school trips, and is always looking for volunteers. The farm is open daily, and kids are allowed to help care for the creatures. Laura says: “Every kid has an inbuilt compassion and interest for animals. We adults often just teach them otherwise. But if you give them the freedom and space to explore this aspect of their nature, they learn so much about animals and, ultimately, themselves.”

INFO: Dhs20 (adults), Dhs10 (children), 9am to 6pm, next to The Desert Equestrian Club near to the Municipality Vet Clinic, Al Khawaneej, Dubai, 050 273 0973, www.poshpawsdubai.com.