Government support animal welfare after a former French actress wrote to Mubarak complaining of 'senseless slaughter'.
Animal rights movement starting to stir in Egypt
CAIRO // The haunting sound of barking dogs and screeching cats followed by gunshots throughout the night is a constant reminder of the struggle undertaken by animal rights activists in the country. The killing of stray animals is a common practice in Egypt but both the government and grass-roots movements are putting a push on to make life better for dogs and cats. Last month, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) held its quadrennial animal welfare conference in Cairo. Delegates passed several resolutions, including continuing to set standards for humane methods for controlling stray dog populations and free-roaming cats. Amin Abaza, the Egyptian minister of agriculture, told the conference his nation "strongly supports the OIE's work in animal welfare". The backing of the government is being supported by one activist who has started working with children to educate them about treating animals properly. Amina Abaza, the founding director of the Society for the Protection of Animal Rights in Egypt (SPARE), is visiting schools in Cairo to try to change the way people think about dogs and cats. At a recent visit to Elias Language College School on the outskirts of Cairo, Ms Abaza told about 200 boys aged between seven and 11 that they needed to protect animals because they could not help themselves. "Animals are created from flesh, blood, feelings and brain, but they can't defend themselves. "Why do you want to hurt an animal? Why use your power to abuse a weaker person or animal?" Ms Abaza, 53, said both the Quran and the Bible urged mercy for animals. She said awareness of animal rights should start with children, as stopping them from abusing animals while they are young will continue through their lives. "You don't have to raise animals, just don't harm them when you see them in the streets," she said. "Hurting animals is a sign of ignorance and cruelty, not poverty." Ms Abaza told the children her concern for animals started when she was seven after a white dog that used to play with her as she was waiting for her school bus was killed one night. Eight years ago, she resigned from her job at Egyptian TV and set up SPARE after her husband urged her to do something to save stray animals "other than agonising and crying over animals' torture". SPARE is based in Saqqara, in the Pyramids area, where its shelter cares for about 95 dogs and 40 cats. Ms Abaza has been criticised for caring and protecting animals in a country with widespread poverty and where human rights are frequently abused. "There are human rights groups to defend humans, I'm pursuing the mission that I feel I was created for," she said. "Besides, I believe that mercy is indivisible. Those who are used to torturing animals would tend to find it easier to abuse humans as there are unfortunate concepts prevalent in our society these days that cruelty is heroism and mercy is a sign of being weak and stupid. I'm trying to change that." Egypt has come under international scrutiny over its animal rights record after Brigitte Bardot, the French actress, last year sent a letter to Hosni Mubarak, the president, asking him for an urgent intervention to stop the poisoning and gunning down of stray animals. In her letter, Ms Bardot emphasised that "today, animals are treated in the worst way by Egyptians with guilty indifference and the complicity of authorities". "This lamentable spectacle sickens anyone who has even the smallest bit of sensitivity or humanity in them. For several years now I have implored you to put an end to this cruel practice, to the immense suffering of all the poisoned and beaten dogs, to this shameless slaughter which poses a real problem to public health." After this letter, a presidential decree was issued demanding a report. While the actions by the government may be slow in coming, there are many in Cairo who love animals and there is a growing trend - especially among wealthy Egyptians who live in villas in the suburbs of Cairo - to own well-bred puppies. Nervine Mahmoud, 36, who was bitten by her dog and had to get rabies shots, was in tears after she had to hand over her dog to be put down by health officials. But now the mother of two children has two new German shepherds - Mango and Sushi - who live with her in Sherouk, east of Cairo. "We just love them," she said. firstname.lastname@example.org