Elisa Kissa-Öberg, a journalist, recently visited Cairo and highlighted the difficulties faced by street dogs and cats, as well as the people who help them. While animal protection groups on Facebook depict the distress that Egyptians cause to animals intentionally or through ignorance, Kissa-Öberg also observed acts of kindness and dedication that appear almost insane in her home country. Cairo has dozens of dog shelters, most of which are situatedaong the Giza-Saqqarah axis. However, there is no official animal welfare law in Egypt, and the official count of 15 million stray dogs is likely grossly underestimated. In impoverished Egyptian neighborhoods, garbage is disposed of in the streets and canals, providing sustenance for homeless animals. Although some street dogs appear malnourished, many are reasonably healthy looking. At night, health authorities use poison and firearms to kill dogs, a practice that locals have protested against. Dogs with an ear badge from the TNR project are generally left alone. Street dogs and cats in Egypt suffer greatly at the hands of humans. Dogs are stoned, beaten, and hanged, while cats are often mauled by dogs or perish from viral diseases. Children use puppies and kittens as toys and torture them until they are nearly dead. At Marian Adel Ramzy’s shelter, Care for Animal Rescue in Egypt (CARE), however, Kissa-Öberg played with a three-legged puppy named Conny that had been abandoned after someone cut off its back leg and threw it in the trash. Although it lost a limb, Conny remains a happy and spirited little guy. Meanwhile, a tiny kitten brought to the shelter after being found wandering alone on the street is still in solitary confinement, but Kissa-Öberg hopes that the two will eventually be able to keep one another company. Although Islamic tradition holds that houses with dogs are unclean, the Grand Mufti of Egypt has disproved this belief in 2020.
In the Faisal neighborhood last November, a dog suffering from scabies and in bad condition was desperately seeking urgent care from a Facebook animal protection group. Unfortunately, even before a placement could be found, the dog was found dead. It had been brutally hacked to pieces due to locals’ fear of its appearance. The sad image of the dog’s body was shared on the same Facebook group where help had been sought for it.
At ESMA, the largest and oldest shelter with many cats and dogs, a donkey was seeking attention despite having a twisted front leg. While most animals were friendly and seeking love and company, a dead cat was found in one of the shelters, surrounded by noisy dogs. Animal shelters in Egypt suffer from resource shortages, and animals occasionally die unnoticed, but it is still a tragedy.
The Animal Protection Foundation (APF) has a large and well-organized shelter, with a monkey in addition to dogs and cats. The organization also does educational work, such as collaborating with schools and organizing open days. However, the pet-keeping mentality in Egypt typically involves getting a cute puppy and abandoning it when it becomes too much work. Nancy Essam’s cat shelter has a beautiful Persian kitten, whose sell-by date had passed, left to wander alone outside a pet store. This kitten has an excellent chance of finding a home in the USA, but unfortunately, ordinary cats are not often wanted there either.
During my visits to different shelters, I couldn’t help but notice how one or two dogs would always seek attention from visitors, as if pleading with their eyes to be taken away. Crema, a paralyzed dog living in Talya’s shelter, was particularly heartbreaking. While I wished to take her home, I had to explain that it wasn’t possible in my country. These dogs were likely once someone’s pets and find it harder to adjust to shelter life than street dogs.Most of the dogs I encountered were friendly and sociable towards humans, although some had to be kept in smaller kennels due to disagreements with others. However, they often had friends they could share a cage with. The majority of the purebred dogs in the shelters were golden retrievers and German shepherds, with the latter having a striking appearance similar to a Belgian shepherd.Street dogs in Egypt are typically baladis, resembling the greyhounds of old with short hair, erect ears, and curled tails. They still maintain the same appearance as the Anubis statues of ancient Egypt, and while Egyptians consider them mongrels, genetic testing has shown that they haven’t mixed with other breeds. Of course, this may change as abandoned dogs of other breeds interbreed with them.Animal lovers in Egypt share the idaof non-kill shelters, with animals only being given pain medication and left to pass away naturally. Even dogs that have bitten someone are not euthanized, as shelter volunteers try to find them a new home. One shelter, however, is known for terminating hopeless cases to end their suffering. While this seems logical, some believe there is always hope, except in cases of rabies.At CARE shelter, I met Carmen and Caramella, two adorable baladi siblings who suffered permanent damage to their central nervous systems from distemper. They can only move their paws and raise their heads, but despite the vet’s statement that their ability to feel has lessened, they seemed blissful as I stroked them.
When I asked Marian why she doesn’t allow the vet to euthanize dogs that have little chance of living happily, she became emotional and explained that according to Islamic belief, taking the life of an animal (barring food) would demand an answer on the Day of Resurrection. While Marian is a Coptic Christian, this idaof non-kill is widespreadaongst Egyptian animal lovers. Marian often takes on cases that are beyond hope without human intervention, but she refuses to give up. She recently received a paralyzed dog that had to traverse 400km to reach her shelter, but it passed away before it could arrive. Shortly after my visit, a man hit a dog with a heavy object, leaving it severely injured, but the dog underwent two surgeries and now has a chance at recovery thanks to donations from generous individuals.
Talya’s Foundation to Save a Soul focuses on caring for disabled dogs. The facility allows for free-range movement for most dogs, and there’s even a therapy pool available. Half of the dogs in the shelter were partially disabled upon their arrival. However, they’re now all capable of moving around except for thirty spinal cord injuries cases who rely on their front legs to move. Although they have separate kennels, they still receive the same care as the healthy ones in the shelter.
Noha Awad, who gets assistance from three recent veterinary medicine graduates, believes that love is more vital than medication when it comes to animal care. Watching the dogs at the shelter, one can see how happy they are. It costs more than 150,000 Egyptian pounds or roughly 6,000 euros per month to maintain the shelter’s 500 dogs. Noha covers these expenses by herself through the help of friends and acquaintances since the dogs don’t have supporters abroad. For most shelters, foreign monthly donations are a lifeline with an average godfather fee of 25-30 euros. These payments cover rent, food costs, and employee salaries. However, Noha’s resources aren’t sufficient to provide wheelchairs for the 30 dogs that require them. Although I saw one dog with a wheelchair playing among the able-bodied, Noha wants all permanently disabled dogs to have this opportunity.
Noha feels sadness for not being able to accept every animal in need that’s offered to her shelter. Other shelter owners share this sentiment, and most of them struggle to keep their facilities functioning. Donations come from not only Egyptians but also individuals in the USA, Canada, Germany, and the UK. Every foundation has a website or Facebook page for gaining supporters.
Vicki Michelle Brown, a Tennessee native, traveled to Cairo to conduct research on animal welfare in Egypt and ended up falling in love with the country. She and her partner have been operating the American Cairo Animal Rescue Foundation (ACARF) for a year now, providing exceptional care for animals thanks to their strong network of donors. They also collaborate with other shelters and organizations to raise awareness about animal protection and rescue.
During my visit to one of the shelters, I witnessed some heartbreaking situations, like a pregnant dog with a nasty wound on her side andaother dog with a permanently twisted jaw due to a previous injury. However, the shelters are doing their best to provide medical care, food, and shelter to all the animals under their care, even though they face significant challenges due to the rising cost of living in Egypt and the lack of government support.
One way people can help is by adopting dogs from Egypt and bringing them home to the US, Canada, UK, or Germany, as there are not enough local adopters. Some shelters have invested in finding homes abroad and rely on volunteers from around the world to help them care for the animals, although the pandemic has made it harder to get foreign assistance. Despite the challenges, the staff at the shelters are dedicated and hardworking, and they continue to make a difference in the lives of animals in need.
Some individuals run animal shelters purely for profit, preying on the goodwill of donors. One such shelter has a couple of vocal supporters from the UK who have never even seen the place, but most animal welfare activists in Cairo are unaware of its existence. Unfortunately, some shelters neglect their animals after receiving donations. Some animal rescuers even believe that some animals are safer on the streets than in shelters. The high cost of rent for shelter properties makes it a lucrative business for property owners. In fact, one landlord resorted to threatening his tenants with a machine gun before evicting them. Two other animal shelters were also terminated while this report was being written. Such terminations can be catastrophic for the animals as it entails dismantling cages and moving them somewhere else.
The price of dog food has doubled in Egypt, and two shelters have already announced on their Facebook pages that they cannot provide food for their dogs daily. Many Cairo residents bear the responsibility of feeding stray animals and paying for their treatment under the Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) program, which provides discounted sterilization and vaccination against rabies. Nevertheless, the number of animal helpers in Cairo remains limited, let alone in the rest of Egypt. Although many cats and dogs would prefer to roam free, it is often not safe to do so in Egypt. Fortunately, there are tens of thousands of people in large animal protection groups on social media platforms, and help is almost always available. However, animal welfare activists still need more support to make a significant difference.