Friday,24 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1126, 13 - 19 December 2012
Friday,24 November, 2017
Issue 1126, 13 - 19 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Animal happiness

Animal companions can have positive effects on children, the elderly, the sick and even prisoners, says Omneya Yousry 

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Al-Ahram Weekly

According to some research, animal companions or pets can have physiological benefits on many people, with the presence of a dog having been found significantly to lower the blood pressure of children engaged in stressful activities. Among the elderly, pet owners have been found to be happier, more independent and more optimistic than non-pet owners. Pet ownership can give the elderly more of a sense of purpose in life, foster social interaction and motivate them to exercise.
While all kinds of pets can bring people pleasure, it is important to choose a pet that is right for your family, home and lifestyle, especially when considering the possible therapeutic benefits. It is also important, if you have children, to choose a pet that your child can care for.
Most people tend to choose dogs, cats, birds or even fish. However, more and more people today are opting instead for less customary animal companions, among them hedgehogs, turtles, crocodiles, chameleons, snakes, monkeys, squirrels, hyenas and rabbits, said Mahmoud Bekheit, a sales assistant at a Cairo pet shop.
“We’ve noticed that the people that ask for dogs and cats tend to be older or adults, while stranger pets are more attractive to young people and kids,” Bekheit said. “We don’t keep the stranger pets at the shop, and they are only sold by order.” The most common requests from this long list of unusual pets are snakes, hedgehogs and hyenas, he said.
Some people may want to own an unusual animal for particular purposes. “Many medical or pharmaceutical students come in to ask for frogs for dissection purposes, for example, though they are not strictly looking for pets. The strangest situation I ever came across was when a man asked to buy a chameleon because he wanted to watch it change colour according to its environment.”
Unlike what many people may think, unusual pets needn’t be expensive, with hyenas, rabbits, hamsters, turtles and hedgehogs being sold for LE100 in Cairo.
Not everyone wants a cat or a dog, and many people are looking for something more exotic. According to Rasha Sadek, a Cairo resident, “I saw a close-up of a hedgehog’s face on Animal Planet, and I immediately fell in love with it and bought one from a local market, not a pet shop.” Pika, the hedgehog, was six months old at the time, and he went on to live with Sadek for seven years, longer than a hedgehog’s regular lifespan of five years.
“There are different kinds of hedgehogs. The one I adopted was light brown and from the Algerian desert,” Sadek said. Her hedgehog’s coat was smooth unless he felt threatened, when he would raise his spines. “They are the same as human beings,” Sadek added. “When you change their environment, they adapt to their new life psychologically and physically.”
While hedgehogs in the wild go into hibernation in winter, in the domestic environment they don’t. Pika, the name of Sadek’s pet, used to eat chicken, tuna, dry food and fish, though he also showed a liking for chocolate and sweets. “Unlike other animals, hedgehogs don’t get sick as they have antibodies against diseases. Pika had many funny and intimate habits. He used to like to listen when I played the guitar and sit on my lap when I was watching TV. He also had a daily exercise hour.”
Ouzi, a cocktail bird, has become a friend of Salma’s family, and she has not left the house since she arrived there by chance two years ago. “We tried to put her in a cage and let her fly freely at times,” Salma, a Cairo resident, said. “But then we noticed she’s happier when she’s free, so now we allow her to live freely in the flat with us.”
Ouzi shares her new family’s meals and likes eggs, oranges, mangos, lettuce and cucumber. She’s only dangerous before laying her eggs, when she can become aggressive. Salma said that she had only taken Ouzi to the vet once, when she injured her legs. “Apart from that, she has never been ill. Today, we can’t imagine life without Ouzi and her partner, Shico. They walk about and even kiss my mother.”
For Sadek and Salma, Pika and Ouzi are more than just pets. They are true members of the family. And it’s not hard to see why, since these pets greet family members at the door after a long day’s work, settle into laps while their human owners are watching TV, or sing along when they are humming a tune. They provide companionship and a sense of comfort.
Mohamed Said, a mass communications graduate, has a four-metre-long python that lives with him at home. “I bought Diana, the python, when she was 60cm long. Now she’s four years old and four metres long. This type of python can live up to 40 years and grows up to 21 metres long,” Said said.
The python eats every 10 days or so, when she eats mice or eggs. Like humans, she takes medicine and goes to the doctor when she is sick. Said has done a lot of research into his python, saying that this type of python, the Silver Falls python, is originally from Senegal.” “Though she’s not seen as a sociable animal and is deaf, all our family is friendly towards Diana. She lives with us without a cage, and her sense of smell is so strong that she can distinguish the people she’s dealing with.”
Said also used to have a young crocodile, but he only kept it for three months before selling it. He finds keeping a wild animal at home a unique and unparalleled experience.
“I wanted to try a new experience, which is why I bought a chameleon after seeing one with a friend of mine. However, the experience turned bad because she passed away after two months, possibly because she was not eating properly,” said Amir Maghrabi, a resident of Cairo. “Chameleons live in high temperatures, and my chameleon lived with us at home in a large bird cage. She was very cute and lovely to play with. I used to take her with me when I went to a coffee shop,” Maghrabi said.
Mai, a housewife, has had a different experience. She owns two turtles, which she describes as “very cool and calm”. They only eat lettuce and don’t even need much water. “I find them convenient and suitable pets that don’t need much care and time, especially after my two previous unsuccessful experiences with dogs and cats,” Mai said. “Every now and then, my child’s friends bring their turtles to visit us and run a turtle race. It’s really such fun.”
Having a chimpanzee can be challenging, says Rana Mansour, a pharmacist. “I didn’t choose him, and he was a gift from a friend who is the owner of a pet shop. We agreed to look after him for a few months. It was nice, and he had very human habits. But I don’t like pets in general, and I couldn’t take on the responsibility forever,” she added.
Having worked for more than 15 years in a private veterinary clinic, Ahmed Fawzi understands pet owners as much as pets themselves. “Dogs are the closest to my heart, and sometimes I feel that the fashion for strange animals is just that — a fashion — that comes and goes and eventually disappears.” According to Fawzi, the most common dogs for home ownership today are boxers, rottweilers, pit bulls and Dobermans, especially after the release of the film The Doberman Gang.
German shepherds are still the dog of choice for many people, however. As for cats, Fawzi says that few people in Egypt today own Siamese cats, preferring less challenging breeds.
Fawzi receives his clients at the clinic, but when it comes to owners with animals like tigers and gorillas, which is not unknown, he has to make private visits. “The owners of these animals are most likely young people with high net incomes. Some of them like to show off. Once, a young man asked me to find him an expensive pit bull dog just so he could have a more valuable dog than his friend, for example,” Fawzi said.
“Another man summoned me to his house to examine his animals, and when I got there I found that he was out of the country all the time and left the animals to be looked after by maids.” Even so, the main reason for having a pet is still psychological and for company, Fawzi said. “Divorcees, widows, unmarried women, or older people who spend their days at home are often all pet owners.”

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