The Hell of homeless dogs in Cairo

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Dog in Cairo, Egypt

Journalist Elisa Kissa-Öberg visits Cairo, and writes about the plight of Egyptian street dogs and cats – and the struggles of the people who help them…

In animal protection groups on Facebook, I had seen the immense suffering that the Egyptians cause to animals either intentionally or through lack of understanding – but on the ground I also saw kindness, and dedication which went so far that it would probably be considered madness in my home country.

There are dozens of shelters for rescued dogs in Cairo, most of them on the Giza-Saqqarah axis. I visited six shelters, some of which also had cats and other animals, and one private cat shelter. According to the official announcement, there are up to 15 million stray dogs in Egypt. But as one well-known animal protector stated, the census should be done officially and in Egypt nothing about animals is official. One thing is certain: there is no animal welfare law in Egypt.

In Cairo, there doesn’t seem to be waste management, at least in the poor areas, but the garbage is taken to the sides of the streets and canals. Homeless animals find food there. I didn’t see any street dogs that looked starved, although of course there are some. The health authorities go and poison and shoot dogs at night, which the residents have complained about. Dogs with a badge in their ear that it has been treated in the TNR project – more on that later – are generally allowed to be left alone.

In 2020 Egypt’s highest religious scholar, the Grand Mufti, has disproved the belief of dogs being unclean

In Egypt, street dogs are beaten and stoned until they are either immobilized or dead. As I write this, I read about puppies that had been killed by throwing boiling water over them. Dogs are being hanged. Many dogs get hit by cars, either unintentionally or intentionally. Cats are more often allowed to be alone, but many are destined to be mauled by dogs or some viral disease turns fatal. Sometimes dogs are also mauled by other dogs.

Children use puppies and kittens as their toys and torment them half-dead. At Marian Adel Ramzy’s shelter Care for Animal Rescue in Egypt (CARE), I play with a three-legged puppy. Marian had been informed about a puppy whose back leg had been cut off and the puppy was then thrown in the trash. Still, the puppy, named Conny, hadn’t lost his trust in humans; he is a happy and fun little chap. At the same time, a tiny kitten had been brought to the shelter, which had wandered alone on the street. She is still in isolation, but I hope that in time these little ones will keep company with each other.

According to Islamic tradition, the Prophet Mohammed had stated that angels do not enter a house where there is a dog. However, in 2020, Egypt’s highest religious scholar, the Grand Mufti, has disproved the belief of dogs being unclean.

In November, there was a dog in the Faisal neighborhood that had suffered from scabies for a long time and was in bad condition. In a Facebook group animal protectors were looking for an urgent placement for the dog. Before the place could be found, the dog was found dead. He was literally hacked to pieces. So it was not enough to burden this outcast to suffer from a horrible disease, but also he had to die brutally.

The reason for killing was said to be that the locals were afraid of the dog because of its appearance. The photo of the dog’s body was published in the same Facebook group where help had been sought for it.

At the biggest and oldest of the shelters, ESMA (The Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals), with 1,600 dogs and as many cats, a donkey came to poke my arm. He had a lot to say. I didn’t understand what he meant, but the braying of a donkey is perhaps the saddest sound in the world. This donkey in itself did not seem at all unhappy; because of his twisted front leg, he had been granted asylum.

In every shelter I visited one or two dogs would stick to the visitor, begging for strokes and saying with their beautiful eyes, “I’m a good dog, take me”

I found a dead cat in the shelter; it had died unnoticed. The cats in ESMA shelter are surrounded by dogs and the commotion must be very stressful for the cats due the noise. Shelters, of course, suffer from all kinds of resource shortages, and occasionally animals occasionally die, but there was something particularly tragic about that creature that had sneaked out of the world.

In addition to 2,000 dogs and a few dozen cats, at the Animal Protection Foundation (APF) shelter there is also a monkey. The area is huge and very well organized and maintained. Obviously, there are the best resources of the shelters I visited. APF also does educational work, e.g. schools and recently they had an open day.

The Egyptian pet-keeping mentality in a nutshell is that you get a cute puppy and when you get tired of it, you leave it to its own devices. At Nancy Essam‘s cat shelter, I met a beautiful Persian kitten, whose sell-by date, according to the owner of the pet store, had passed, and the kitten had been left alone to wander in front of the store. This beautiful and friendly purebred cat has an excellent chance of getting a home in the USA. On the other hand, more ordinary cats are not wanted there either.

In every shelter I visited one or two dogs would stick to the visitor, begging for strokes and saying with their beautiful eyes, “I’m a good dog, take me”. Perhaps the most moving of these was Crema, living in Talya’s shelter; she was paralyzed and moved dragging herself with the front legs. I had to answer her that unfortunately paralyzed dogs are not allowed to live in my home country in the first place. These dogs begging for the attention have probably been pets once, and it is more difficult for them than the so-called street dogs to adapt to shelter life.

Almost all the dogs I saw in shelters were friendly and social towards people. Of course, not all dogs get along and bickering dogs have to be in smaller kennels. However, they often have friends who can live in the same cage. Of the purebred dogs in the shelters, I saw mostly golden retrievers and German shepherds, the latter of which are particularly beautiful. They have a well-featured head reminiscent of a Belgian Shepherd and they are all social too.

Most street dogs are baladis, more or less greyhound-like, with short hair, large erect ears, and a tail that often curls over the back. The Baladi still has the same appearance as the Anubis statues of ancient Egypt. Although the Egyptians consider baladis to be mongrels, the genetic test of a baladi, who got a home in the USA, concluded that the breed has not mixed with other breeds. Of course, this too will change when abandoned dogs of other breeds interbreed with the baladis.

Idea of non-kill is common to almost all Egyptian animal lovers

One of the reasons for the overcrowding of shelters is that the animals never are euthanized. If the animal is in pain, it is given pain medication and a natural end is expected. Even angry dogs are not euthanized; as I was writing this, there was a petition in a Facebook group to place a dog that bit a person in a shelter before it has to be killed. It is of course difficult for a Finn to understand this mentality.

One shelter, however, is “notoriously famous” for the so-called hopeless cases being terminated. It is of course difficult for us to understand why it would be wrong to release an animal from its suffering if there is no hope of recovery. However, as a shelter keeper stated that there is always hope, unless it is rabies.

In CARE shelter there are most adorable baladi siblings. Carmen and Caramella got distemper as puppies and suffered permanent damage to the central nervous system; they can only raise their heads and move their paws, otherwise they are immobile. The vet had said that the dogs’ ability to feel has decreased, but the other fell asleep looking blissful as I stroked it.

Cairo shelter

I asked Marian why she doesn’t let the vet euthanize these dogs, whose lives can’t be very happy. She got tears in her eyes. Marian must have thought it incomprehensible: according to the belief of Islam, the one who takes the life of an animal (except for food) will have to answer for his act to Allah on the Day of Resurrection. However, Marian is not a Muslim, but a Coptic Christian. Idea of non-kill is common to almost all Egyptian animal lovers.

Marian often takes on cases that would have no chance of surviving without human help. The day before my visit, there was supposed to bring a paralyzed dog from 400 km away to the shelter, but the dog died before that. Shortly after my visit, a dog was brought to the shelter, and from the surveillance camera, it appeared that a man who had come out of the small shop had hit him on the back with a heavy object so badly that the dog was injured. The dog soon underwent a surgery and there is hope that the another surgery will possibly restore her ability to move. The money for these operations is collected from donors.

Miracles really do happen: Talya’s Foundation to Save a Soul specializes in taking care of disabled dogs. At the shelter, most dogs are allowed free range in a large area to get as much exercise as possible, and there is even a therapy pool. Half of the dogs I saw had reportedly been partially disabled when they arrived; now they were all able to move except the thirty with spinal cord injuries. These too dragging themselves with their front legs; however, the dogs were in different kennels than the healthy ones, because they would always be the last to get to the food bowl.

Almost all shelters have a constant struggle for existence

Although Noha Awad gets help from three newly graduated veterinarians, she says that love is perhaps even more important than any medicine. I can well believe it when I see how happy the dogs are at the shelter. The costs of maintaining a shelter for 500 dogs is more than 150,000 Egyptian pounds, or almost 6,000 euros per month. Noha pays the expenses herself with the help of her friends and acquaintances. The dogs do not have “godfathers” abroad to send a monthly allowance for a particular dog or cat.

For many shelters, these foreign monthly donors are a lifeline and the average “godfather fee” is 25-30 euros. The payments cover not only the food costs of the animals, but also the rent of the shelters and the salaries of the employees. The resources of Noha and his friends are not enough for everything: there is a need for about 30 wheelchairs. I saw one dog bouncing on his chair among the able-bodied, but Noha would like to offer this opportunity to all permanently disabled dogs.

Noha said that her heart bleeds because she is not able to accept all the animals in need that are offered to her. Some other shelter keepers also used the exact same expression. Almost all shelters have a constant struggle for existence. Donations are received not only from Egyptians, but especially the USA, Canada, Germany and UK have a record in this.
Every foundation has got a website or Facebook page or both. At least one of them is necessary for getting supporters.

Vicki Michelle Brown from Tennessee came to Cairo to do scientific research on Egyptian animal welfare, and fell in love. He and his partner have been running American Cairo Animal Rescue Foundation (ACARF) for a year. There is a very qualified foreman at the shelter and a vet visits six days a week. The shelter is exceptional because they don’t have a constant lack of money; with the help of her relationships Vicki collects so many donations that she can also help some other shelters. Vicki is also starting a new awareness campaign for school children together with Animal Protection Foundation.

While I visited the shelter, a dog had just been brought in with a nasty-looking wound on its side. The dog was pregnant. While writing the article, I read that a dog named Aziza has given birth to five puppies. However, she does not have enough milk and a fund-raising campaign for mother’s milk substitute is under way.

In HOPE – Egyptian Baladi Rescue & Rehabilitation Association – there are 450 dogs, 30 cats and five monkeys in two shelters. Hamada, the manager of another shelter, impresses with his dog handling skills; the dogs obey him perfectly. Hamada knows everyone by name and tells me the story of many in Arabic. He accompanies his story with gestures, so I pretty much understand. Someone had smashed the lower jaw of the sweet Boo with a chisel. Boo’s jaw is permanently twisted, but he doesn’t seem to be in pain and is able to eat.

The director of the Furever shelter, Hanan Atef Zaki, says that because the cost of living in Egypt has risen sharply, all the shelters are having difficulties

Most workers in shelters are teenagers or young men. The work is heavy and naturally dirty. Injured dogs also have to be moved and carried. Of course, workers must not be afraid of dogs, because sometimes dogs can come to blows and they have to be separated. All the employees I saw seemed competent and hardworking. There were no female employees, but there are mainly women in the management of the nurseries and some of them also participate in practical work.

One important way to help is to adopt your dog abroad while Egyptians are not interested in doing so. Nowadays, most homes are offered from USA, Canada, UK and Germany. Exporting dogs is expensive, and in my country, the border vet’s inspection fee, which does not apply to pets brought by the owner himself, adds to that. Fortunately, the flight sponsor activity, i.e. a pet brought free of charge by a tourist on the return flight, reduces import costs, but there are costs of preparing the animal for a trip. And, of course, the pet’s transport box and the flight fee. Passengers are allowed to take pets weighing less than 8 kilograms into the cabin.

Two shelters particularly have invested in finding homes abroad: Animal Protection Foundation and Furever Rescue Foster. In the latter there are almost 500 dogs. There are volunteers from as far away as Germany to help, but Covid has taken a heavy toll on the number of foreign volunteers. There are no Egyptian volunteers at the shelters. The director of the Furever shelter, Hanan Atef Zaki, says that because the cost of living in Egypt has risen sharply, all the shelters are having difficulties. After all, they don’t get any subsidies from the administration.

Naturally, for some, keeping a shelter is a business. No one wanted to mention scammers’ by name, but I came across one by chance while doing background study. The shelter in question has a couple of fanatical British supporters, who have not visited the place, but most animal helpers in Cairo have not even heard of the shelter. The name of the shelter is not mentioned in this report.

So some shelters collect animals only in the hope of donations and then do not take care of them. One animal protector stated that sometimes animals seem to be safer on the streets than in shelters. The rents for shelter properties are high and you can say that they are a business for some landowners. At one point, one landowner got fed up with his tenants and drove them away threatening them with a machine gun. I also heard about two another cases of terminations of rentals that happened while writing this.

These terminations are catastrophic for the shelters, because cages and canopies have been built for the shelters and suddenly everything should be dismantled and taken elsewhere, besides the animals of course.

In Egypt, the price of dog food has doubled in a short time. While writing this two shelters I visited have announced on their Facebook pages that they cannot feed their dogs every day

Many Cairo residents feed homeless animals at their own expense and pay for their TNR treatment. TNR comes from the words trap, neuter, release. The dogs and cats sterilized in the project are at the same time vaccinated against rabies. Either a notch is made in their ear or a plastic badge is attached as a sign of handling. Veterinarians who have signed a TNR contract give substantial discounts for the sterilization of animals brought under the project. There doesn’t seem to be any information on how many animals in Egypt have gone through TNR.

Many dogs and cats would probably be happier roaming the streets freely, but in Egypt is often is too dangerous. However, there are tens of thousands of people in the big animal protection groups on Facebook, and almost always there is help to be found, often though at a point when the end without help would be inevitable. However, animal helpers in Cairo are still a small minority – let alone in the rest of Egypt.

In Egypt, the price of dog food has doubled in a short time. While writing this two shelters I visited have announced on their Facebook pages that they cannot feed their dogs every day, and they cannot continue for much longer if they do not get help.

Hope in Cairo
 

This is a guest post by Elisa Kissa-Öberg. Want to write for us? Visit www.dogstodaymagazine.co.uk/essay-submission or email editorial@dogstodaymagazine.co.uk

6 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you so much Elisa for showing the world our dogs needs, Egypt is a hell pit for dogs if they r not kept at shelters or homes .
    Hope the world stands up to help Egypt dogs.

  2. “The issue of homeless dogs in Cairo is a heartbreaking reality and highlights the need for animal welfare organizations and government intervention to provide proper care and protection for these animals. The situation is a serious and urgent one that deserves attention and action.”

  3. I just came back from Egypt and ran into this article and this mirrors every sentiment I had for the poor strays there. Thank you for writing this and spreading awareness. I will be looking into adopting a stray in the near future.

  4. Your information about Islamic views is incorrect. It is haram to neglect/mistreat animals including dogs. It is not permissible in Islam to hurt any animal. Fact check yourself before you loose your credibility

  5. Thank you for writing this article about these many stray dogs in Cairo . I just came back from my trip there in October and I can’t believe what I saw around the pyramids . Lots of emaciated dogs lying on the ground ,some can barely walk, and even saw a dead one and no one seemed to care . I asked our tour guide about them and she claimed they’re being cared for ???. Where is the government ??

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