In Egypt, it's common to see stray cats and dogs roaming the streets. But since Egypt's 18-day uprising, Persian and Siamese cats and other companion animals can also be seen struggling to survive in the chaos.
Many tourists, expatriates and citizens who fled Egypt for their safety were not allowed to take their pets with them. Thousands of all types of pets were forced to be left behind, with many left to starve and fend for themselves amid the rioting, tear gas and rubber bullets .
Pet shops and zoos were closed or abandoned, leaving caged animals with little or no food, water or care.
Near the Pyramids and other once bustling tourist attractions, the horses, donkeys and camels that tens of thousands of tourists ride on each year are dying of starvation. The tourist rides were the sole source of income for many stable owners. With the tourists gone, so is their income. They can no longer afford to feed their families, let alone their animals. Hundreds of horses are nothing more than skin and bones, slowly starving to death.
In a region that is the birthplace of the Persian cat that we so love, and in a country that once worshipped the cat, it is easy to want to believe that animals are somehow being cared for during this political turmoil. But that is not the case.
Although Islamic beliefs include compassion for and protection of animals, the cultural attitude toward animals in Egypt is troubling. They are largely treated as property and often treated poorly.
The Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals (ESMA)
Recent years have shown signs of forward movement in animal welfare. In late 2007, the Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals (ESMA) was formed in response to a horrific shooting spree of street dogs by the Egyptian government.
A registered nonprofit animal shelter and adoption center, ESMA is committed to improving animal welfare in Egypt in all areas of need, including dogs and cats; donkeys and horses; animals in the Cairo zoo; and pet shops. But the recent revolution has put a tremendous strain on this organization and they are in dire need of support.
With limited resources, ESMA is working around the clock to help as many animals as possible, but disruptions to business and supply chains are only making their efforts more difficult. While delivering food and supplies to animals in need, its staff and volunteers have endured physical attacks by looters who want the goods.
In addition to their normal overflow of rescued animals, ESMA is now flooded with displaced pets, as well as injured street cats and dogs. The tear gas used on demonstrators left many of these animals near death – unable to breathe and unable to see through swollen eyes. Many others have been injured by bullets.
ESMA is also reaching out to pet store owners to help them care for their animals. And the organization is bringing food, supplies and veterinary care to stable owners.
As Egyptians courageously establish a new era of freedom and democracy, new priorities and challenges will certainly arise. And through all this, a handful of dedicated, determined people in Egypt continue to fight an unseen and extraordinarily difficult battle to protect the country's animals. Let's hope they know that the world appreciates their remarkable effort. Because this movement, too, can take root and spread beyond Egypt's borders.
After all, if there is something in the human soul that cries out for freedom, there is also something in animals' eyes that lets us know that they, too, have souls and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Pam Shaouy is a Telly award-winning video scriptwriter who lives in Georgia with her husband, two Persian and two domestic shorthair cats -- all adopted from rescue groups. She is a lifelong cat owner with a passion for Persians.
When Pam is not writing scripts or pampering her kitties, she volunteers her writing services for Zoo Atlanta and her veterinarian, cares for a small group of altered feral cats and paints pastel animal portraits.
- Pyramids photo by Ricardo Liberato
- Cat Photos courtesy of the Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals