CAIRO: Volunteers carry nets to catch dogs and give them rabies shots.—AP
CAIRO: Volunteers carry nets to catch dogs and give them rabies shots.—AP

KARIM Hegazi spends his days in a Cairo clinic taking care of animals long considered a menace in Egypt. Stray dogs roam in almost every Cairo neighborhood lurking in construction sites, scavenging through trash and howling nightly atop parked cars. The government says there are around 15 million of them. They bite some 200,000 people a year, according to the WHO, and spread rabies, one of the world’s most lethal diseases. And if that wasn’t reason enough to feel revulsion toward dogs, a famous Islamic saying warns that “angels won’t enter your home if there’s a dog inside”.

Yet after centuries of stigma, the street dogs of Egypt are finding popular acceptance, and along with it, surging grass-roots support. That includes adoption and medical care, as well as spaying and neutering to keep them from producing more puppies on the streets. Volunteers armed with giant fishing nets and tranquilizer darts embark on regular missions to catch, vaccinate and sterilize dogs before letting them loose.

“I’ve seen a major shift ... people are seeing a value in strays,” said Karim Hegazi, 32, from his veterinary hospital. He says he’s no longer treating just foreign pooches, but also a growing number of adopted baladi dogs, the once-reviled Egyptian street breed. Even pious Muslim clients are taking in street dogs. Hegazi says they often reconcile their religious beliefs and love of dogs by keeping them in grassy yards or on rooftops. Egypt’s upper and middle classes have increasingly adopted Western-inspired ideas of dog ownership. Pet hotels, cafes and grooming emporiums are sprouting up in major Egyptian cities. A Facebook forum for vet recommendations exploded into a community of 13,000 pet lovers trading stray rescue stories. Dozens of new shelters coordinate adoptions online, flooding Instagram feeds with images of abandoned puppies.

But leading veterinarians say Egypt’s efforts still lack state funding or a legal framework to protect animals, meaning the future of the country’s street dogs remains uncertain.

Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2020