By day Sarah Bartlett is the managing director of the global public relations firm Weber Shandwick’s Abu Dhabi office. But after hours she devotes herself to work of a different kind – as a volunteer with the charity Animal Action UAE.
For the past two years, Ms Bartlett, 39, has given up her free time to improving the plight of the city’s rescue animals. She is also studying a mini-MBA and learning to become a chartered company director.
“My day includes giving strategic reputation management advice to clients, business financial planning, liaising with organisations who approach us for support and ensuring that my team of 20 have the physical and mental support needed to do their job, which can be pressured and stressful as our industry never switches off,” says Ms Bartlett. “I am on call 24/7, at weekends, too.”
But while her job is demanding, so is her passion outside of work.
A typical day starts with catching up with what happened overnight at Animal Action UAE via Facebook, before she rolls up to her TwoFour54 office at 9am.
Ms Bartlett’s lunchtimes are spent at her desk on the Animal Action UAE Facebook group, with a sandwich in one hand and tapping out advertisement copy and updates with the other hand.
She clocks off work between 6pm and 8pm and heads to the Australian Veterinary Hospital in Khalifa City, to visit some of the charity’s rescued animals. The organisation has a front line team of seven women with a further 200 volunteers across the UAE involved in their foster network.
“Many of our animals are physically sick or injured through road traffic accidents, disease or starvation, or emotionally damaged, especially from abuse by humans,” says Ms Bartlett. “I psychologically evaluate them, help socialise them where needed and give them love and attention to assist their path to recovery and successful homing.”
Her role means she gets to see humanity at its best – “especially the selfless volunteers I work alongside and people who are willing to take on animals with substantial problems” – and at it’s worst – “I’ll never get used to the deliberate abuse we witness. Many of our animals are psychologically damaged.”
But there are joyful moments in her voluntary role, too. “Last autumn I took in a tiny paralysed kitten that we were advised to have put to sleep,” she recalls. “I was only supposed to have her for her final weekend on earth but she went from strength to strength, and was later adopted by an amazing couple on Reem Island.”
Ms Bartlett also walks the kennelled dogs in the evenings – a sweaty job at this time of year.
At home, she catches up on her studying, and gives her two pet cats, plus whichever foster animals are staying with her at the time, some TLC. “Last summer I had six cats in my apartment; two of my own plus a nursing mother and three kittens rescued from a warehouse in Dubai.”
Ms Bartlett has fostered 48 cats and three dogs in the nine years she’s been working for Weber Shandwick in Abu Dhabi.
At weekends, Ms Bartlett is busy with adoption days, offering support at fund-raising events, visits to animal foster homes or potential adoptive homes to assess their suitability, as well as more vet visits.
She admits her jam-packed routine does entail some personal sacrifices.
“I am currently single, and everyone tells me I’m probably destined to remain so if I keep spending so much time at the office and the vets!” she says.
“My parents and friends all think I’m slightly crazy, but they understand how much I gain in return. Not everyone gets to experience the kind of unconditional love that an animal gives out.
“The work I do for Animal Action UAE also means that as a single expatriate, I feel a tighter and more grounded connection to the society in which I have chosen to live.”
Ms Bartlett is in no doubt that her career complements her charity work, “in terms of understanding how to communicate with people, using social media to find supporters and raising awareness for the work we do”.
“I am extremely lucky that I have been able to combine my professional work with my passion.”
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