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In Egypt, Dogs' Best Friend Is a Woman

A former journalist establishes a shelter for strays after she saves a mixed breed from being drowned in a Cairo canal.

August 24, 2003|Noha El Hennawy | Associated Press Writer

CAIRO — The happily yelping dogs saved from Cairo's cruel streets by Amina Abaza's shelter owe their well-fed state to a confrontation between the animal lover and a young boy trying to drown a mixed-breed stray in a canal.

Abaza rescued the dog -- since named Shatsy -- and was inspired to do more for at least a few of the Egyptian capital's huge population of strays, which are widely reviled as baladis, roughly meaning country curs.

"The dog was screaming. The kid refused to release it until I suggested buying it from him," Abaza said. "I have been interested in animals since I was a child. I felt pity for those creatures that suffer hunger, cold and people's brutality without being able to express themselves."

Abaza founded her Society for the Protection of Animal Rights shelter two years ago shortly after her encounter with Shatsy. The facility is supported by the former journalist's earnings as a translator at Egyptian state television and by donations.

Abaza says many Egyptians don't understand her devotion to animals, scolding her for not dedicating her time to the needs of humans in the poor country. "I am always referred to as the crazy woman."

She says she didn't really expect to persuade many people to feed or care for dogs given the attitude of most Egyptians toward them, which she characterizes as "brutality and violence."

But she tries to change one aspect of the treatment of strays. "All we want from people is ... not to harm them. I feel embarrassed at the Egyptian attitude toward animals," she said.

At her shelter in Sakkarra, on the outskirts of Cairo, 30 dogs bark from their cages for attention and food from the four paid employees and one volunteer. Shatsy now makes his home in one of the cages, getting two meals a day.

Abaza says 45 stray dogs have found homes through the shelter. People who want to adopt one must spend time with the animal and contribute to its upkeep at the shelter before taking it home. They also must convince the shelter staff that they can afford to care for a dog.

Some people who have heard about the shelter bring in dogs, and Abaza picks up strays whenever she finds them. Shelter manager Lori Riley says dogs inevitably arrive thirsty, hungry and injured. Once adopted by the shelter, they are bathed, vaccinated against serious diseases, given a name and put in a cage, Riley says.

More than 90% of the 1.5 million dogs thought to inhabit Cairo are strays, the World Society for the Protection of Animals estimated a few years ago. The society, an international organization that promotes animal welfare, estimates that 10,000 strays are shot each year in an Egyptian government campaign to control their numbers.

The dogs brought to the shelter are neutered, either at the shelter's clinic or a veterinarian's office, in a different approach to population control. Dogs suffering from incurable diseases are given lethal injections.

Abaza recently compiled a pamphlet of Islamic verses and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad that call on Muslims to be merciful to animals.

Among the sayings: "There is not an animal that lives on the Earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but forms part of communities like you. Nothing have We omitted from the Book, and they all shall be gathered to their Lord in the end."

Abaza distributes the pamphlet wherever she goes. "Let's try to convince them with the language they understand," she said.

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