Friday, June 01, 2007

It's A Dog's Life...or Death

I have a regular set of news alerts for stories that mention Cairo, Giza, and Egypt. It's always interesting to see what people are saying about us. This morning my alert included the news story from Al Ahram that can be read by clicking the title which links to it. Al Ahram is the primary government newspaper, and it publishes a weekly English summary as well as an online version. I was actually rather surprised to read about the petitions that have been collected online to try to get the government of Giza and Cairo to stop killing street dogs and to use a more humane and ultimately useful means of control. No one in Egypt questions the need to control the stray and feral animals in Egypt, but there is considerable debate on the way that it should be done.

The Al Ahram article provides a good discussion of the issue. There is no question that something must be done for these animals, but at this point there are a number of groups who are trying to provide neutering and vaccinations for them. This is a vast improvement over the way things were when we first moved to Egypt. In the late 80's it was hard to even find a vet, much less animal rights organisations...and in Egypt animal rights does not mean the sort of strangeness one finds with PETA or some of the other extreme groups. In Egypt, people who talk about animal rights are really talking about the chance for a halfway decent life. The fact that we do kill and eat animals is not subject to debate. Life and death are more immediate and accepted here.

Unfortunately, there is less understanding of the needs of animals to lead good lives. One of the things that the article doesn't mention is the need for education of the general population about how the environment consists of humans AND everything else. The dogs, cats, weasels, rats, mice, foxes, bats, owls, lizards, snakes and geckos, to name a few species, inhabit our cities and villages with us....and without them, our lives would be very different. During my first years in Alexandria I was horrified to find our staff killing geckos whenever they found them and I asked why on earth they would do something like that. I was told that the folk wisdom is that geckos spit poison into salt dishes so they must be dispatched. People who work with me now get constant lessons about the need for animals such as geckos and garden snakes to help control insects and other pests. There truly isn't a basic understanding that the other creatures inhabiting our space have to be considered as well.

As deplorable as this massive lack is, I can understand a lot of it. Until very recently, a huge proportion of Egypt's population was rural and they were subsistence farmers who struggled to make ends meet. There isn't much time to think about the quality of life for donkeys, dogs, and cats when you are simply scrambling to feed your family. Medical care for animals was sketchy at best even when I moved here in the 80's. Most vets took care of dairy cows or chickens and there was perhaps one small animal vet in Alexandria...and even he knew more about chickens or rabbits than cats. I knew more than he did. Most farmers rarely see a vet and know almost nothing about the animals that they use. When George, our donkey, was born I had some fairly knowledgeable grooms tell me that we should tie strings around his legs above the knees and tie his ears together over his head. After I picked myself up off the ground from laughing at them, I absolutely refused, pointing out that we never tie a foal's legs to strenthen them, nor do we tie their ears to ensure that they are upright. They were rather amazed to see that a donkey who goes without these essential steps not only grew up strong and straight, but that worming and trimming him from an early age gave us a donkey that is generally admired greatly for his size and strength. As he still isn't four years old, no one has ridden him either, so his back is still intact and very strong from his pulling work. Most donkeys are ridden far too young, destroying their spine early and leading to an early death. A ten year old donkey is old in Egypt. I expect George and Daisy to outlive me.

The missing link, of course, in all of this is education. We can hope that some of the television shows that people see will help a bit, but I'm not holding my breath. In school systems that rely on memorization and rote learning, there isn't much hope for teaching either. Perhaps the various animal rescue/rights groups will be able to make some inroads on education. For myself, I just do what I can with the resources available to me. Anyone who admires George gets a lecture on the need to let a donkey or horse grow up before being ridden. My neighbour, Am Ramadan, however, continues to have a heartbreaking string of two and under two year old horses going through his "training" program prior to selling them. We wormed everyone on the farm yesterday...horses, donkeys, mules, goats, sheep, and gamoosa. When I insisted on doing the babies as well, the boys were shocked but I pointed out that they will grow much better if they aren't carrying a parasite load. Hmmm, novel idea. And the goat and donkey pen does good business as a petting zoo/instructional setting for both visiting city kids and some of the village kids who come to play. This way, I figure that I'm reaching some of the children with a different idea about how we live in this world. If everyone does one small thing, we can actually make a difference.

copyright 2007 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani