Maryam Al Balushi has a good time with her cats and dogs at her home in Oman's capital Muscat. AFP
Gulf Today Report
An Omani woman has become a celebrity of sorts on Instagram for maintaining an army of pets – 500 to be precise – who lift her spirits.
Maryam Al-Balushi doesn’t feel nervous when it comes to catering for the needs of pets: she has accumulated 480 cats and 12 dogs. She simply loves them, so much so that she cares a fig for neighbours’ complaints about her ‘creature comforts’.
Clearly, she is not scared of the fact that in these coronavirus-laden times, pets can catch the pandemic. Love for her domesticated animals takes centre stage. Balushi spends about $7,800 monthly to care for the creatures, but such is her fondness for them that money is no issue for her.
The reason she gives for maintaining her large brood: they give her feelgood feelings.
She says her impressive collection of cats and dogs has helped her stave off depression.
"I was in a dark place and they were the lifeline that rescued me," she said.
"I find that animals, especially cats and dogs, are more faithful than humans," she said as cats jumped on and off a nearby scratching pole.
Orphaned at a young age, Balushi has grown her menagerie over the past decade, identifying with her furry friends, many of which were rescued from hard lives on the street.
Oman has seen an upswing in stray and abandoned animals in recent years, local media report, despite penalties of $25 for dumping a pet.
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Seventeen of Maryam’s pets are blind. She diligently feeds and cleans them and takes them to the veterinarian for medical attention.
Her home is now full of cages, with Balushi letting them out to exercise and play in rotation.
"It all began in 2008 when my son bought a small Persian cat," said Balushi, 51, a retired civil servant, wearing a dusky pink abaya and immaculate makeup.
"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 two years later Balushi found herself looking after another cat and her approach was transformed.
"I found myself totally immersed. I took care of her entirely, feeding her, bathing her and spending a lot of time with her," she said.
Balushi was inspired by a former neighbour who used to feed strays with household scraps.
Word spread about Balushi's passion for animals and departing expatriates would leave their pets on her doorstep while animal shelters would re-settle their charges with her.
After buying her own home in 2014 following complaints about her growing collection, she was able to take on more animals.
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