Moustafa Daly talks to the founder of the group of Cairenes raiding pet shops in Maadi and enforcing a list of demands upon their owners.
When you live in a country where child labour is rampant, sexual harassment endemic, and basic human rights reduced to obscurity, it's quite a challenge to bat an eye about anything else that seems to be going wrong; the least of which is animal abuse. The thousands of animals encaged under insufferable conditions at pet shops across Cairo are definitely some of the unluckiest in the world, but we've somehow managed to mute their sufferings and crop them out of the frame of our everyday life. But when a photo of an encaged dead husky (below) at one of Cairo's pet shops made the rounds in late May, a group of Cairenes spontaneously took matters into hand and jumped to action."It just can't keep on happening; we can't let pet shop owners imprison animals, abuse them and profit off of them while we just watch," says 25-year-old Maadian Leila Gheita. Three weeks ago, she launched an animal welfare campaign, namely Stop Animal Cruelty at Pet Shops, with an approach which was yet to be attempted in Egypt; confrontation. "We called upon Cairenes who share our rage to join us in our first pet shop raid some three weeks ago. When we showed up to the meeting point, we were surprised to find more than 60 people have joined us."
Three Maadi pet shops were the target of that first raid. Gheita and the group would simply walk into the place and have a talk with its owner on the inhumane conditions in which they pets were displayed. They also presented them with a list of demands which included providing the pets with clean water, fresh food, padded cages which are kept away from direct sunlight, fans and/or a viable ventilation system, and an individual cage for each animal. They further demanded a halt to selling exotic animals, which is indeed illegal in Egypt.The reaction to their hands-on approach varied from one owner to another. Some were open to listen and enact some of the demands to the best of their abilities, while others denied any sort of abuse, despite it being evident, and jumped onto the defense.
"Some of the animals in those shops were literally just sitting in their own poop. We saw kittens which were dramatically underfed, and others were kept in glass boxes," she explains.
A week later, they went on a follow-up raid to the same pet shops while also raiding 3 more shops, still in Maadi. To their surprise, the owners had mostly complied to their demands. One of them, whose shop had previously witnessed numerous pets' death, was so moved that he decided to stop selling animals altogether and shift his business to selling animal supplies and food only, which pushed the group to dream even bigger.
"So far we've seen good results but that could just be because we're still confined to Maadi. Our next move is to start raiding pet shops all over Cairo. We're kicking that off right after Eid by raiding three shops in Gesr El Suez which are notorious for their animal abuse, and I sincerely hope that even more people will join us there"A big part of the dilemma is the fact that as long as there are willing customers, the notorious pet industry in Egypt is never going to suddenly cease to exist. Which is why, in addition to raiding pet shops and improving living conditions for the animals trapped there, Gheita is also calling upon Egyptians to stop viewing animals as brands they need to have and opt for adopting.
"It's been normalised that we pay money to get pets while this is not necessarily normal," she elaborates. "We have hundreds of thousands of balady cats and dogs that need homes and affection, and that's where we should start directing our focus. But of course that's a notion that's hard to instill in people in a country where even the government poisons stray animals en masse to keep their rising population in check."
The issue is, however, that the group's effort is at risk of going to waste without a bigger frame of work that involves civil society, the government and most of all, Egyptians themselves. But decades of societal degeneration and worsening living conditions have left Egyptians densitised to such a somewhat fluffy issue. Why feed or save an animal when there're millions of people that are underfed and abused on daily basis?
"I have one simple response to that, dogs and cats don't have a voice to defend themselves. They can't speak up and demand their rights, unlike humans. We can speak for ourselves and fight for our place in the world, even the weakest ones of us can. It's not poverty which is causing the situation to deteriorate, it's the lack of proper education. We're investing billions in building cities and roads but don't seem nearly interested in investing in people's education, which is where the root of this issue, and many others in Egypt, lies."
Photo courtesy of Leila Gheita
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