Portrait of a nation: the dog lover whose devotion to helping strays is ‘taking over his life’

Portrait of a nation: the dog lover whose devotion to helping strays is ‘taking over his life’

Liam Gallacher became so heavily involved in the Stray Dogs Center that within three months he became a member of the management teamLiam Gallacher, a volunteer at the Stray Dogs Centre in Umm Al Quwain, devotes almost all of his spare time to helping strays. The Scot became so heavily involved in the centre that he was a member of the board within three months of first volunteering.

In life, they say you are either a cat person or a dog person.

Liam Gallacher is unquestionably the latter.

He devotes so much of his spare time to helping out at the Stray Dogs Centre in Umm Al Quwain that he jokes he has two full-time jobs, only one of which is paid.

Mr Gallacher, 33, arrived in Dubai from his home town of Aberdeen in Scotland a little less than two years ago to work in the clean-energy sector.

I have carried out rescues in Al Ain before where I just drove up there and rescued two dogs chained to a pole

Liam Gallacher

Although he lived with dogs all his life, getting one here was never an option because of the sweltering summer heat and his busy job.

“It wouldn’t have been fair,” he said. “But I had kind of been wanting to spend time with dogs because I have always had them and I missed being around them.”

While searching for volunteering opportunities he came across the Stray Dogs Centre, the UAE’s largest private dog rescue shelter, which houses more than 400 dogs.


Age: 33

Favourite quote: “If you’re going through hell, keep going” Winston Churchill Favourite breed of dog: All of them. I can’t possibly pick a favourite.

Favourite place in the UAE: The Stray Dogs Centre in Umm Al Quwain. It sounds predictable, but it honestly is my favourite place to spend time. Surrounded by hundreds of dogs that love you – what could possibly be better than that?

Favourite colour: All the colours that dogs come in

He signed up for his first weekend dog walk with the centre in November 2018. Within two months, he was running the Friday event, which is usually attended by about 100 people. And by February, he was a member of the management team.

“That’s when it really started to pick up steam in terms of how much it was taking over my life,” he said.

“But it’s pretty easy to dedicate so much time to it because I treat it as a second full-time job – that I work office hours from Sunday to Thursday, and then my evenings to weekends are for shelter.”

It may be unpaid but that is not to say it is easy. The centre faces huge challenges.

It never says no to a dog, taking in more than 34 over a three-day period recently, which has resulted in large bills.

Last month, Mr Gallacher helped to orchestrate a campaign to save the centre from closure after it became crippled with debt.

Supporters, including readers of The National, stepped in, allowing the centre to clear its veterinary bills.

“It was amazing that happened, but the second those bills were paid the debt started building up again because we have no other regular source of income other than people sponsoring dogs,” he said.

“We are trying desperately to find ways to be more sustainable in what we do. We are looking at different options as to how we could get cheaper electricity. Because we are in the desert we run everything off generators, which is very expensive.”

One way the centre, which has a no-kill policy, is trying to be more sustainable is through its hotel food leftovers campaign, which Mr Gallacher said was not originally his idea, but has “since become my baby”.

Mr Gallacher said he was originally contacted by one of the centre’s supporters, who worked at a hotel in Dubai Marina and suggested the centre could feed the dogs using leftover food from brunches.

Last Saturday the centre collected food waste from 19 hotels. The initiative saves the centre an estimated Dh5,000 a month, he said.

Mr Gallacher’s involvement stretches far beyond administration. He helps to transport dogs and collects items people that people donate. He also co-ordinates all the car-boot sales and helps to organise events involving companies.

He is personally involved in rescues too, which could be anywhere in the UAE.

“I have carried out rescues in Al Ain before, one where I just drove up there and rescued two dogs chained to a pole.”

It was a case of taking the chains from their necks, replacing them with regular leashes and leading them to the car.

But some dogs can be aggressive, which he said can be frightening. But in those situations, his extensive experience with dogs comes in handy.

“Just being able to compose yourself, give off that feeling of confidence, dogs really appreciate that. If a dog knows you are scared it’s going to react to that,” he said.

Like many who move here, he arrived with a two-year plan. Next month will be his second anniversary and he has no intention of leaving.

“Now I have been sucked into this whole thing with the shelter, it’s very difficult for me to envisage leaving the UAE now,” he said.