Saturday,17 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1408, (6 - 12 September 2018)
Saturday,17 November, 2018
Issue 1408, (6 - 12 September 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Guidance notes for the dog market

The market for dogs in Egypt has grown exponentially over recent years with the expansion of new homes with gardens, writes Rasha Sadek 

Guidance notes for the dog market

If you don’t understand what your dog is saying, it may be simply because you don’t know its language. Maybe Orhan Pamuk, author of the novel My Name is Red and winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature, described it best when he said that “dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.”

Dogs often grow up in loving homes as inseparable members of the family. They tend to our emotional needs, and they make our lives whole. And we reciprocate. We give them care, love, good food, and pamper them. Who doesn’t like to pamper their babies?

Here is where the industry revolving around dogs and dog accessories comes in. For example, the present author has a female dog whose greatest joy in life is to receive a new necklace. Her happiness upon wearing that necklace, translated into her body language and facial expressions, is priceless.

Pet shops providing dog accessories have multiplied over the past decade in Cairo because more and more people have moved to the outskirts of the city, which has allowed them to own bigger homes with gardens and therefore also dogs. The market tending to dogs’ needs has grown with the increasing demand for dog toys, accessories and food.

The toys can be expensive even if locally made, ranging from LE60 to LE110. But our dogs don’t care for expensive gifts. A tennis ball, for LE15, or a chewing knotted rope, for LE20, can become the little treasure they cherish. Chewing bones range from LE40 to LE70, and you should spend on those, especially when your dog is teething. They will save your furniture and your shoes from being torn to shreds if you leave your dog home alone for a few hours during the day.

Harnesses, cord and iron leashes and collars made of natural leather or otherwise are must-haves and are available at all pet stores. Retractable leashes are hard to find, though. Depending on the size, weight and attitude of your dog, you can pick the most suitable accessories for taking your friend for a walk down the street or in the park for prices ranging from LE40 for harnesses for small dogs to LE300 for big dogs, LE120 to LE150 for iron leashes, and anywhere between LE80 and LE140 for collars.

Small and short-haired dogs can’t withstand Egypt’s cold nights, but sweaters and knit-wear are not sold at pet shops. Instead, some people have set up businesses importing dog sweaters and selling them on Facebook for LE250. They come in different sizes and colours.

With the growth of the dog market has come social activities that bring together dog-owners and their pets. In the new cities where public gardens are planned near every block, residents who own dogs have set up Facebook pages where they can discuss problems, share advice, and arrange weekly or monthly gatherings for their dogs to play together at one of the public parks, excluding in the summer season. 

“This is how we have created a community of new friends for ourselves and our dogs,” said Suzanna Osman, who likes to take her two dogs to such gatherings in Shorouk city. “We keep them leashed at all times, however, because the public gardens are not fenced,” she added. “From this bigger community have sprung smaller ones. We arrange play dates if we find two or more dogs get along together really well at one of our houses. The house with the biggest garden is where the gathering takes place.”

In addition to gardens, dogs love beaches, and most of them like to swim. Summer activities include arranging similar gatherings in Alexandria and on the North Coast. Some resorts overlooking the Mediterranean and the Red Sea allow dogs to accompany their owners on the beach provided that the owners keep them close by. Other resorts, such as Marina in Ain Sokhna, have allocated a part of their private beach where dogs can play and swim freely.

In Cairo, a few cafés have opened their doors to receive customers and their dogs, such as the Station in the Fifth Settlement. “Dogs like to go out and socialise. Just like us, they like the change of scenery. It alters their mood positively,” said Hadir Selim, manager of the café. “The place is primarily about raising the awareness of people about these magnificent animals and educating children about dogs,” she added. She insists the idea didn’t spring up for commercial reasons or to draw in a certain segment of clientele. The Station provides the visiting dogs with fresh and dry food and water free of charge. 

“Recently, the Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals [ESMA] made a deal with the Hilton Ramsis Hotel to take its leftover food from open buffets and wedding events to feed the dogs at the shelter. We are calling upon other hotels and conglomerates to follow the same lead in order to provide decent meals for dogs at other shelters and on the streets,” Selim said.

Guidance notes for the dog market

DOG FOOD: Before more and more Egyptians decided to introduce dogs into their lives, dry dog-food options were limited, with maybe only two or three products available. 

However, today the market is wide open, and dogs can no longer be bored eating the same kind of dry food for the rest of their lives. With brands imported from different countries around the world, finding the right dry food with adequate proteins, vitamins and fibres to suit your dog and the depth of your pocket is not a challenge. Prices range from LE400 to LE780 for imported 15kg bags of food like Belgian Enjoy or German Fokker. A few brands sell their 25kg bags for LE1,150, whereas good quality made-in-Egypt brands cost between LE365 and LE400 for 20kg bags like Migma and Super Canido. 

Lesser quality, locally produced brands are cheaper, but it’s highly likely you don’t want to invest in those. Dry food for senior dogs, puppies and dogs on a weight-loss regimen is also available among the imported brands.

It is also healthy to feed your dog fresh food, and dogs, being members of our families, like to share with us what we eat. For economic reasons this might not be possible at all times, but the market provides some solutions. Meat butchers sell bones, ligaments, trachea and tendons for as little as LE6 per kg, for example. The tendons are a natural source of collagen and glucosamine, and so is the trachea. Ligaments are packed with protein. When properly cooked, bones are a favourite pastime for dogs. Some butchers sell what they call herasa, “a guard’s meal”, the guard in this case being the dog. This is one kg of cooked rice and meat leftovers sold for LE10 for people who don’t have the time to cook for their pets.

The larger market, however, is reserved for chicken bones, known in Arabic as hayakel. Chicken vendors fillet the chicken and sell its bones, complete with the wings, head, neck, skin and feet for LE10 to LE14, depending on the components. Most people prefer the head and feet out, of course. While the majority of veterinarians will advise against feeding chicken bones to your dogs, others will reservedly agree, while insisting that “grilled chicken bones are the most dangerous because they can break like spears in a dog’s throat.”

Fatma Eleish, a resident of Madinaty City on the outskirts of Cairo, says that “I am a stay-at-home mother with a lot of time on my hands. I make one kg packages of cooked food for dogs and sell them to my clients who are all working types with no time available to cook a well-balanced meal for their pets.” Eleish’s meal prices are in the range of her few peers. “The packages contain rice and vegetables with either chicken, meat, liver or minced meat and are sold for LE19 to LE23 depending on the components,” she says.

Usually Eleish’s clients order 30 or 60 packages in one go. “This is why the meals have to be frozen, but the packaging is microwave-friendly for the ultimate ease of preparing dogs’ meals,” she told Al-Ahram Weekly.

She is not the only one who has such a project. Other people, be they stay-at-home mothers or meat and chicken vendors, also prepare such meals and publicise their projects on social-media pages dedicated to pets.

Barf food, or raw food, is a dog diet chosen by some owners. The regimen emphasises raw meat, whole or ground bones, fruit such as apples, vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and celery, raw eggs and dairy items such as yoghurt. It is, however, controversial. 

It was Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst who first proposed the idea in 1993. He said his feeding suggestion was “an acronym that stands for Bones and Raw Food, or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food.” He contended that “grain-based commercial pet foods were harmful to a dog’s health. [They would] thrive on what canines ate before they became domesticated,” he said.

Many veterinarians, however, disagree, such as Ayman Al-Qadi. “Dogs shouldn’t be eating raw meat because it poses health risks from bacteria. The bones may choke the dog, break their teeth, or cause an internal puncture,” he said. The US Food and Drug Administration has also conducted studies of barf food that have shown bacterial contamination. In 2004, it warned against the possibility of health risks to owners from handling the meat. Twenty commercial barf diets were tested in 2006, and it was found that “7.1 per cent contained a type of salmonella. E coli bacteria was found in 59.6 per cent of raw meat diets. These bacteria can also be shed in the faeces, leading to a potential source of human exposure and infection,” the study said.

Ahmed Al-Tabei, a pet-owner, disregards these concerns and feeds his dogs barf foods. “This diet increases the energy of the dogs and gives them a shinier coat and a healthier skin. It also maintains clean teeth, a fresh breath and smaller stools.” Al-Tabei owns a pet shop and sells minced whole chickens for LE10 per kg.

“This is basically what I feed my dogs. I blend a kg of these minced chickens with bread and they love it,” he said. Al-Tabei told the Weekly that he buys the minced chickens from factories and slaughter houses that also sell chickens for human consumption. “The ones up for mincing are those that do not meet the required standard weights, not the dead ones,” he added.

“It is a blessing that many domesticated dogs are not fond of barf diets. Many benefits attributed to raw food diets, such as a shinier coat, are the result of high fat composition which is also available in some commercial foods without the risk of bacteria,” Al-Qadi said.   

Even people like Al-Tabei who support barf regimens say they are not appropriate for all dogs, such as those with kidney or liver failure, pancreatitis, digestive issues, immune-suppressive diseases or puppies. “If calcium and phosphorus ratios are not right, there will be bone deformities and growth issues,” said Al-Tabei, who breeds German shepherds.

Guidance notes for the dog market

DOG BREEDING: Al-Tabei also offers his dogs for mating. Depending on the purity of the breed, his dogs are offered for LE2,000, LE3,000 and LE5,000 if the female dog is impregnated.

“The female dog has to run some tests before mating if she has been pregnant before to know whether she is a carrier of any viruses and to find out the best three days for mating. These take place on the ninth, 11th and 13th days of her menstrual cycle,” he said.

“It’s always best to let the male and female mate on their own. I intervene only in cases when they can’t successfully perform,” said Selim Mohamed, who offers his German shepherd for mating for LE10,000. “My dog is the winner of many championships in Egypt and abroad. Its price in the market has reached LE105,000 thanks to the many prizes it has received. But of course I wouldn’t sell him for the world,” Mohamed said.

Amateur dog-owners who want their dogs to breed sometimes face the difficulty of controlling their dog for a successful mating. “Experts in the field usually work in dog kennels, and many of them come from the countryside. Not all veterinarians can guarantee a successful result,” said Bassam Saleh, a veterinarian.

Over the years, breeding dogs have led the market to the point of saturation. It has become quite easy to buy one from the hundreds of advertisements on Facebook dog community pages or websites such as OLX. Individuals posting ads to sell puppies can offer them for low prices in the hope of selling all the litter quickly as puppies older than three months are more difficult to sell. 

Based on this reporter’s experience and that of her social circle, merchants and pet-store owners can pose as potential buyers with a big garden and dog-loving children to cover the fact that they will often resell the dogs at pet stores for higher prices. Other merchants can be quite blunt, offering in exchange for a puppy a watch or a mobile phone, which is sad but too often true. 

“It is crucial that dog-owners who want to sell their puppies conduct interviews with potential buyers. Ask to see pictures of where the puppies will be staying, make sure the puppy will be sleeping indoors, not in the garden, and that the new family will take good care of it,” advises Heba Saad, a veterinarian. “You will want to make sure that your puppy has found a loving home,” she said.

Dog kennels that have made a name for themselves are often in the business of buying puppies on the condition that they buy the whole litter. One kennel, for example, which specialises in golden retrievers, buys the litter for LE1,000 per puppy and then resells them for LE5,000 each. 

Other kennels when they have realised that the market was saturating with well-known breeds have started importing breeds less known to the Egyptian market, such as samoyeds, caucasians and shih tzus, selling them for up to LE24,000-40,000 in the case of a samoyed or a caucasian, and LE12,000 for a shih tzu.

Guidance notes for the dog market

A DOG’S NIGHTMARE: Like pet stores, dog kennels have sprung up and multiplied in many places in and around Cairo in the past few years, their businesses growing with the increase in demand for dogs. 

The kennels offer many services, including boarding, arranged mating, and chemical showers, while very few have the added bonus of decent playgrounds and coffee shops for the owners to rest while their dogs play around. Boarding at the kennels ranges from LE100 to LE150 per night, depending on whether the owner will supply their dogs’ food for the duration of the stay. 

While knowing that a pet dog can stay somewhere if its owners are travelling can be a relief for some, others had had bad experiences, including Cairo resident Marina Fayek. “I left my dog at a kennel for two weeks. When I took him back, he was very weak. He had contracted a virus and died within a week of his return,” she said.

Usually, said Saad, “dogs do not do well in kennels. There are never enough workers to keep the dogs clean, healthy and insect-free. In addition, the dogs suffer tremendous psychological trauma when their owners abandon them, even for a few days.”

Soha Atteya, Fayek’s neighbour, decided it was better to be safe than sorry. “I haven’t travelled in the past four years because I can’t leave Daisy at a boarding kennel or clinic. She would be very sad, and I fear for her,” she told the Weekly

Besides boarding, the kennels — as well as veterinary clinics — offer chemical showers for dogs to rid them of fleas and ticks — a nightmare for pets and their owners during the summer season in Egypt. These showers are done using diazinon, or its derivatives, which is sold for LE150 per litre. Unfortunately, despite being effective in the fight against ticks and fleas, diazinon’s high toxicity makes it lethal for dogs and children if ingested and very dangerous to human adults.

“From the observations my team and I have made, 40 per cent of dogs who undergo chemical showers die,” said Saad. “I was trying to save a dog a few days ago after he had had a chemical shower. His owner told me the dog had untied the bandage the workers had placed on his mouth after he was bathed and then licked himself. The workers were afraid to tell the owner because they were not keeping a close eye on him. Had they admitted their irresponsible behaviour at the time, the dog might have been saved,” she added.

Sadly, many veterinarians approached by the Weekly whose clinics provide the service of such showers would not reveal the real numbers of fatalities resulting from them. There are, however, other safer options to fight ticks and fleas in dogs, but they don’t guarantee 100 per cent effectiveness if the insects have spread in large numbers and in the house and garden.

Egyptian and imported ampules, the drops of which are placed along the spine of the animal and sold in clinics for LE30 and LE150, respectively, work best with dogs that live in houses without gardens and don’t go out that often. Flea and tick collars and shampoos and powders are sold in abundance at pet stores, especially during the summer. The collars are sold for LE50 to LE900 and the shampoos and powders for LE50 to LE65.

Butox is safer than diazinon, but it’s still toxic. It’s more suitable for spraying gardens, the furniture and dogs, but it has to be diluted. “Egyptian butox unfortunately is not strong enough. The Jordanian version is of much better quality,” commented Saleh. The first is sold for LE75 for a 250ml bottle, whereas the second is sold for LE300 for a bottle of the same size.

“It’s best to keep the dog away from the garden and furniture sprayed with butox for two days,” advises Saad, before adding tongue-in-cheek, “if people have to use diazinon on their gardens, they’d better keep the dogs locked up in the house for four days.”

Come the summer season, dog-owners often run around in circles looking for the latest products to halt the spread of ticks and fleas, but Al-Qadi said it all when he commented that “if the pet-owners have a big house and a garden, there will be no product — diazinon or not — that will end the battle for the dog. Save yourself, and your dog, all the trouble and all these chemical substances and give your dog a daily clean-up by plucking the insects off with tweezers.”

“If the dog becomes allergic or itchy give it an antihistamine medicine. And pray for the summer season to end quickly,” he said.

Guidance notes for the dog market

LICENSING AND THEFT: Although constitutionally granted, Egypt’s record in the protection of animal rights has not always been the brightest. 

“Animal rights have a long way to go before they are taken seriously in Egypt,” Saleh 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 has taken place without even being reported in the media, let alone punished by the law.”

Dog-owners are also concerned about the seriousness of the law when it comes to thefts. “Unfortunately, because there is not enough awareness of how valuable these animals are, on most occasions the police don’t respond adequately when a dog is reported as having been stolen,” he added. 

Even the frequency of dog thefts in the satellite cities has not been enough to encourage owners to hurry to license their dogs, the penalty for the lack of which can be a fine of LE20,000 or six months in prison.

“The best we can do about these thefts is to warn each other about the new ways thieves come up with to steal dogs and to take the necessary precautions,” said Osman. “Drugged darts and drugged food remain the most common, however. This is why it is important not to leave the dog unattended in the garden,” she added.

Currently, the licensing of dogs takes place at the Veterinary Hospital in Abbasiya. Many dog-owners complained to the Weekly that they had not wanted to take their dogs there to be licensed based on previous incidences of dogs contracting viruses because sanitary measures at the hospital were not up to standard. 

“Another problem is that the hospital insists that the dog be vaccinated against rabies even if you present the dog’s medical file that proves it has had all the necessary shots in due time. Moreover, the vaccine offered at the hospital is very poor. I have seen many cases of dogs suffering serious side effects from the hospital’s vaccine,” Saad said.

Meanwhile, one MP proposed a bill last month that would make dog licences obtainable only from the Ministry of the Interior through a series of procedures “similar to obtaining a weapon”, in the MP’s own words. It is to be doubted that with so much work already on their hands ministry officials will accept this additional task.

Finally, some people realise only when it is too late that they are not fit to be responsible for a delicate soul such as a dog. They abandon the dog at a shelter or on the street as a result. 

Last year, US actor Peter Dinklage said in a video that the series Game of Thrones had been indirectly causing a spike in homeless stray dogs in the US because people were purchasing huskies as they wanted to own dogs that looked like the wolves on the show. Unfortunately, these people had bought the dogs not realising how much of a responsibility they are. 

“Not only does this hurt all the deserving homeless dogs waiting for a chance of having a good home at shelters, but the shelters are also reporting that many of these huskies are being abandoned, as often happens when dogs are bought on impulse, without understanding their needs. If you are going to bring a dog into your family, make sure that you are prepared for such a tremendous responsibility and remember to always, always, adopt from a shelter,” Dinklage said.

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