CAIRO: The streets of Cairo are known for their traffic and pollution, but for the estimated thousands of cats and dogs living on the street, the dangers range from abuse, to poisoning, and only a few people stop to help animals in need.
Following the January 25 Revolution and the events of June 30, the challenges of street animals have been out of most public discussion. Exact numbers of animals would be almost impossible to confirm, but a number of groups estimate that hundreds of thousands of stray canines and felines roam the streets.
The 2014 constitution adopted in January includes an article for animal rights protection, but much of the work done to improve animal rights and serve street animals is done by private organizations, not the government.
Animal rights and the law
According to the Egyptian constitution adopted in a Jan. 14 and 15 referendum, Islam is the religion of the state and Sharia law is the basis for its legal structures. The Hadith tells the story of a man who entered heaven after giving a drink of water to a dog, while a woman went to hell for starving a cat to death. In practice, however, the Egyptian streets are littered with poison for street cats regarded as vermin, and shelters regularly euthanize stray animals.
The Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals (ESMA) was founded in 2007 and dedicated to rescuing animals from dangerous conditions. Its volunteers work to find homes for the hundreds of cats and dogs they shelter and also assist working on animals like camels and horses.
Mona Khalil, ESMA chairperson, talked to The Cairo Post Thursday about the shelter and their goal to improve animal welfare.
Generally animal rights organizations face a lot of challenges; many people in Egypt do not believe in animal rights concepts, due to their poverty and poor living conditions, in addition to lack of animal protection laws.
Also these organizations spend a lot of money and efforts to help many animals as much as they can, which cost them a lot of expenses that need donations to cover it to aid the abused and injured animals.
The society has two no-kill shelters and adoption centers operating in Egypt, treating hundreds of animals at a time, and relying on donations to fund its work, food, and veterinary care. ESMA spends thousands of EGP to aid animals as their shelters never turn down animals in need and they keep them for years until they find suitable families to adopt them.
A number of governorates used poison or guns to get rid of the animals they see as a nuisance. In May 2013, state-owned Al-Ahram reported that the Qena governorate fatally poisoned 376 stray dogs and in February Youm7 reported that the governorate of Ismailia would use poison and birdshot to reduce unwanted street dogs.
“This kind of cruel action plants seed of violence and inhumanity in the hearts of children. This procedure could also hurt humans because the clubs use very dangerous poison that could harm humans who get in contact with it,” Khalil said, regarding the poisoning of stray cats with strychnine.
“This procedure teaches youths and teenagers to hurt the weak and harm living beings that have the right to live in peace,” Khalil added.
“One of the most effective methods in facing cruelty towards animals is through education and raising awareness of animal rights,” said animal rights activist Reham Maged, who organizes art and culture plays to raise awareness. One of her series focuses on stories from the Quran and present examples of kindness to animals in Islam.
Outreach and adoption
Every Friday, the shelter organizes a dog walking event, to make sure that the dogs get the needed exercises to be healthy. The society also held an open day event last February, attended by animal lovers, and ESMA provided a bus to transport them.
Khalil said the shelter organized awareness trips this year to schools to allow children to interact with animals and teach them about animal rights. They plan to organize more trips in the future to reach as many children as possible to teach them about animal welfare so future generations will treat animals with more kindness.
ESMA posts pictures of the animals they save, including cats almost drowned by people. The society recently saved two kittens “that were being hung by the neck” and added that they are now safe at the shelter.
Many of animals in the shelter suffer from disabilities, blindness, paralysis or missing legs due to severe accidents and abuse they faced in the streets.
In March 2011, the society launched an adoption campaign on its Facebook page to help find homes for its shelter animals, which have even resulted in a few international adoptions.
Earlier this year, a two-legged dog named Filfill (Pepper) was adopted by a family in Germany. “Everyone who saw him told us to put him down but as ESMA we never and will never give up on any soul we save,” the society wrote on its page.
They rescued a dog that was shot in the face, which caused it brutal injuries but he is still alive and treated by ESMA under the care of Dr. Karim Hegazi. They named the injured dog “Qatmeer.”
Khalil told The Cairo Post that ESMA does not believe in euthanasia and is completely against it. “There is no such thing as ‘merciful killing.’ Nothing can justify this action, the animals cannot defend themselves against this form of cruelty, only God has the right to choose who lives and who dies.”
Most cats on the street in Egypt do not have a breed, called “baladi” or “national” cats. Some prospective owners “do not want them because they think that other foreign breeds are more beautiful. The truth is that the breed does not make a difference, the method of raising the pet is the most important thing,” Khalil said.
Hopes for a new system
The newly adopted constitution included an article that protects animal rights and environment. Article 45 says that the state is committed to protecting endangered species and animal welfare, according to regulation by the law. There are no laws to organize that matter yet and, according to Khalil, animal rights activists are calling for authorities to create and activate animal protection laws.
Wildlife and Animal Rights in Egypt’s Facebook page calls for authorities to impose penalties against anyone who hurt an animal, to stop killing stray animals, to control pet shops, and to stop selling wild animals, among other requests.
Khalil said that animal welfare societies in Egypt are making effort to activate laws to protect animals and hopes to establish police forces to protect animals from any abuse.
Animal Rights activist Dina Zulfikar said on her Facebook page, “Protecting the environment and wildlife in Egypt is a matter of national security.”
Regulations for animal care generally govern the treatment of farm animals. The goal of the General Authority for Veterinary Services is to “protect livestock and their products through the protection of this national wealth of communicable and infectious diseases,” according to its website.