Monday,24 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1261, (3 - 9 September 2015)
Monday,24 September, 2018
Issue 1261, (3 - 9 September 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Taking animal rights seriously

Animals in Egypt con­­tinue to suffer and die on the streets of Egypt’s cities, but for some at least mercy, shelter and medical care are at hand, writes Rasha Sadek

Al-Ahram Weekly

Rex was a ten-day-old puppy when he was taken away from his mother by a porter who wanted to raise him as a watchdog. But by the time Rex was six months old, his kind, friendly nature had led the porter to shackle him to an electricity pole with heavy iron chains. Rex, the baladi street dog, was no longer wanted by his owner.

Rex was then transported to a street in New Cairo where he instantly won the hearts of the residents and children of the area. He was regularly fed and taken care of while he enjoyed the freedom of running and playing around, reciprocated with loyalty, friendliness and protection. Rex had a happy year. But one morning, a man fed him a piece of poisoned meat. Rex, the happy street dog, died.

“Countless animals die every day in Egypt due to abuse. The culture of animal care, along with common humanity for that matter, seems lost on many,” says Mohamed Gamal, a veterinarian.

Something is radically wrong with people who, as has been reported in the news, visit the zoo during Eid, for example, and pelt monkeys with rocks just to have a good laugh at animals in pain.

It is difficult to fathom how, stripped of common humanity, a man can overload his horse cart with iron poles and building materials and then harshly beat the poor animal for not going fast enough, while another man, from the same financial, educational and social background, can cover his donkey with a wet towel to protect it from the heat of the sun.

It is also not understandable how a teenage boy strolling aimlessly along the street can see a stray cat and start kicking it for no reason, while a beggar on the street can share his small meal with a baladi dog.

“Animal rights efforts have a long way to go before they are taken more seriously in Egypt,” Gamal told the Weekly. “To this day, most crimes committed against animals go unpunished. There have been many incidents, especially in New Cairo, where the mass poisoning of street cats and dogs takes place without even being reported in the media, let alone punished by law.”

As much as Gamal’s words ring true, it is thanks to social media that cases of cruelty against animals are being brought to light and awareness is being raised and at times help extended.

Over the past few years, a number of brutish incidents against animals have shaken Egyptian social media users to the core, prompting an immediate response on the part of animal lovers, animal rights groups and even the police.

On 11 May, photographs circulated on social media of six white puppies that had been brutally killed and their mother, sitting beside her slain litter in Alexandria. Eyewitnesses reported that a man living in the same area as the dogs had smashed the one-week-old puppies with a spiked wooden board.

The eyewitnesses added that the mother and her puppies had been friendly and had never harmed anyone. When the photographs went viral, animal rights activists filed a police report against the alleged killer who was later questioned, but the case was shelved.

Following the attack, a local woman, Laila Fayek, took in the dog, who by that time had come to be known as Cleo, short for Cleopatra. Fayek arranged a fundraiser to cover the costs of sending her to a family in the US that wanted to adopt her.

During Cleo’s stay at Fayek’s, she was showered with gifts from sympathisers. The presents included a teddy bear and a mug on which was written “World’s Best Mom”. Cleo is now in the safe hands of her new family in the US.

In late February, social media users also started buzzing over the video of a brown dog that had been tied to a pole before three men crushed his body and bashed him to death with metal clubs and machetes.

Max, the dog, was killed after he had defended his owner who had earlier fought with one of the attackers in Qalioubiya. Because Max had bit the attacker, his owner accepted to settle the score by agreeing that the men could take Max’s life.

Mass online condemnation of the incident led the police to arrest the killers and the owner. The court then sentenced the three attackers and the dog owner (in absentia) to three years in prison. Later, an appeals court reduced the sentence on the attackers to three months, while the dog owner was still sentenced to three years. But he remains at large to this day.

Another story of animal abuse that went viral took place in August 2014 at the Gezira Club in Cairo. It started when policemen noticed some men carrying large sacks as they left the club. When they were searched, the sacks were found to contain dozens of dead cats.

“It’s not the first time the Gezira Club has poisoned the cats on its premises. But this time they poisoned the cats and beat them on their heads with clubs,” Mona Khalil, head of the Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals (ESMA), told the media.

Sherif Al-Qadi, who was present when the police were searching the sacks, found a cat that was between life and death in one of the sacks. “The cats had been beaten and poisoned. What religion and what law allow this to happen?” Al-Qadi, visibly shaken, asked.

In his recent book Baladi Dogs, Persian Cats, veterinarian Ahmed Al-Nabrawi credits social media, especially “Facebook, for shaping a new generation in ways of taking care of animals in Egypt … People have gathered together and united over one goal, and they save animals on the streets, such as dogs hit by cars, which is the most common scenario.”

Social media has proven a more effective way to raise awareness of animal rights than organising protests. On 4 April, animal rights activists organised a protest in Opera Square in downtown Cairo to demand laws punishing crimes of violence against animals.

But the protest’s only result was that car and bus drivers were annoyed because of the congestion caused by the demonstration. Similar protests, like the one organised after the cat massacre at the Gezira Club, have attracted neither the attention of the media nor action on the part of society.

Other than individual efforts by animal enthusiasts or rights groups to save street animals by providing medical care and/or loving homes, only a few non-governmental organisations (NGOs) operate in this field. Khalil’s ESMA is one of the most prominent.

Established in 2007, ESMA has a shelter for dogs in Sakkara and another for cats in Shabramant. Together, the shelters house more than 700 animals and depend on fundraising to treat and find loving homes for their guests.

ESMA has a no-euthanasia policy, but animals that are not lucky enough to experience love at home may live and die in the shelters. Since ESMA is volunteer-based, there are many activities animal enthusiasts can participate in at the NGO.

It “organises dog walks, where you can take one of the dogs for a walk with other volunteers. You can also help bathe the animals. The society accepts monetary donations, blankets, medicines, in fact almost anything. And whether you live in Egypt or abroad, you can always adopt a cat or a dog,” Khalil says.

Another NGO, the Egyptian Society for Animal Friends (ESAF), was established in 2002. Starting out from a flat in Maadi, ESAF now has a shelter in Shabramant and is one of the strongest advocates of “trap, neuter, return” (TNR) procedures.

“TNR means that veterinarians perform spay operations on captured animals, and then the animals are released back on the streets where they were first found. This procedure curbs the population of street animals, a much-needed step in a world where cruelty and abuse unfortunately fill many hearts,” Gamal told the Weekly.

However, Al-Nabrawi believes that TNR is not necessarily appropriate in Egypt. “There are more than 800,000 stray animals in Egypt, while the number of veterinarians who can perform successful TNR operations is about 100,” he said.

“There is a lack of trained workers and vehicles equipped to capture animals, and there are not enough operating theatres for mass spay operations. There is a lack of awareness of TNR methods and benefits.”

While cats and dogs usually receive the lion’s share of attention, other animals, such as donkeys, the working animals of choice in Egypt, have drawn the attention of the Society for the Protection of Animal Rights in Egypt (SPARE).

The oldest animal rights NGO in the country (established in 2001), SPARE has a shelter for abused donkeys where they can spend the rest of their days in peace. The society also operates a veterinary clinic and a TNR unit for cats and dogs.

It’s heart-breaking to see an animal in anguish, and it’s equally excruciating to see people torturing a poor defenceless soul. However, maybe our faith in humanity can be restored, every once in a while, when our furry friends are touched by the hand of mercy, thanks to the work of Egypt’s many animal rights enthusiasts.

In loving memory of Rex.

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