Dog owners and animal rights enthusiasts face many hurdles in Egypt. From a lack of dog parks to mass shootings of strays, their beloved animals struggle to get by.
When Arielle al-Bagory saw a Facebook post about a puppy that died in a pet shop from the heat, she decided to take action so that this never happens again.
This is when the idea of the initiative was born!
Bagory has made up her mind to gear up all efforts to provide “A voice for the voiceless”, the slogan for ‘Pet Shop Watch’ initiative, which she and her friend Leila Gheita started in Maadi that eventually swept Egypt. The initiative aims to monitor pet shops through surprise investigations to make sure pets are being treated in a humane way.
“Dog communities and dogs are not respected in Egypt. Dogs are not rescued and there is no proper treatment for them even if you’re willing to spend money on them,” says dog owner Lojain Ibrahim.
“I see dogs sitting in cages in shops. During holidays they could be forgotten for days with no food or water,” Ibrahim lamented.
Group media coordinator Salma Nasr lists the initiative’s demands saying, “First, if you’re going to put a dog in a cage, that’s torture enough. So they should at least have food, water, cardboard bedding and space.”
Now some 20 members, the group has gained momentum and is saving pets one dog at a time. “Our long-term vision is to eradicate the selling of animals in pet shop and to help people save animals from shelters instead,” according to Nasr.
The initiative received surprising support from pet shop owners in Maadi, Bagory tells Egypt Independent, “When we showed up to Maadi pet shops, they were very open to listening and made improvements.”
“They’re still not at the level we hope they’ll be at but it’s going to take some time to permeate the culture that it’s not okay to treat animals like this.”
However, when the group decided to widen their activity to Rehab, they received mixed reactions.
Pet shop owner Imam al-Zanati, 25, welcomed the initiative, “I think what these kids are doing is great. As pet shop owners, we have to take care of our dogs. Having healthy dogs helps our business.”
When asked why not all pet shop owners did the same he told Egypt Independent that some people who treat it as business, with no regard for the well-being of the dogs.
One pet shop owner in Rehab unleashed some of her largest dogs in an effort to intimidate the group, while she personally attacked some group members physically and verbally, “We did not even get a chance to talk to her,” says Bagory.
Bagory believes such a reaction is not a surprise, as the idea of treating animals decently continues to elude general culture.
“I think that it is partially education. There are many other issues in Egypt that this falls in the backboard and does not get the attention it deserves. As we improve education and spread awareness, I think this is something that people will be more aware of. I hope so at least,” Bagory explained.
However, the education system in Egypt is not living up to these activists’ dreams, according to the youngest member of the initiative 14-year-old Rokya Ashraf, “In schools, we are never taught anything about animal rights or how to treat them, and I think we should receive such education.”
Pet Shop Watch member Amina Wahbi, 45, thinks that until people are better educated, there must be a more effective solution on the short run.
“The Egyptian government has to look at this problem because most of these animals cannot survive on the streets. There must be education, laws and animal control,”
Mahmoud Magdy, 25, echoed Wahbi, and also expressed his belief in the power of people, which is why he suggested talking to people on the street about the cause, “Today is the first day we targeted the people, as we usually target pet stores. But now, we are trying to change a mentality, so we printed out flyers for everyone to see.”
“We saw that people read them. They even asked questions about it. I believe there is hope, and even if there isn’t, we do this to feel like we did the best we can.”
“I also believe the media should take on the responsibility of supporting our cause.”
But Bagory believes that change will come when more people take action,”I think that the people who care about animals… need to step out and do more because in Egypt people have the ability and we all have the influence to make change, and change needs to be met.”
“I think it is going to take time and I hope the next generation will treat animals better.”
Photo Credit: Farah Tawfeek