Monday, May 11, 2009

Definitely a Haven

Our world is a messy place although in many parts people tend to be able to hide the messiness better than in others. North America or Europe with its leash laws, humane societies, and animal rights activists almost makes one think that everything is more or less under control. It isn't, of course, since the very nature of life is change, but when North Americans and Europeans come to Egypt where normality is simply more chaotic than normality elsewhere, they are often rather shocked at the stray animals and working horses and donkeys. In some respects, Egypt is still living in the 19th century. The only working horses in New York City are the police horses or the carriage horses in Central Park, and there are plenty of interest groups that feel that it is inhumane to make horses work in any way and would like to see them abolished. My personal experience is that horses like working with people when the work is reasonable and the care is good, so that is not a great solution.

When I moved here in the late 80's finding a veterinarian to treat a cat in Alexandria was a major feat of detective work, and to be honest the first vet I ever found was pretty awful. Twenty years on things have changed quite a bit and we have a fairly good sampling of decent veterinary clinics in Cairo and Alexandria. Another change that I've seen has been an increase in the number of animal relief associations and animal shelters. Since these are a relatively new idea here, most of the population of Egypt is still trying to understand how they work. Keeping dogs and cats as pets is not that common in the general population, although it's often the case that a doorman will have a local cat or dog who knows where it can get a free meal in exchange for some guard work or ratcatching. These animals are not "pets" in the usual sense, but are more free-roaming partners who live without benefit of vaccinations or neutering and are subject to the stresses of random breeding. This is also the case for the farm dogs out here in the countryside. While this seems tough to people raised in orderly cities abroad, it is in fact the way of the world in less controlled environments.

I've visited quite a few animal shelters over the years and to be honest, most of them give me the willies. Quite a few end up housing large numbers of randomly "rescued" dogs and cats who have no hope of ever being placed in a comfortable environment and who are left to live in pens and cages that are often overcrowded, noisy, dirty and stressful. The low levels of funding for shelters have something to do with these conditions as do the wishes of the keepers to "save" these animals from life on the streets. I understand the problems of keeping large numbers of animals, having fifteen dogs myself (not by choice, believe me) and just visiting some of these places is enough to send me running for a calm place to collect my thoughts.

I have a group of high school students coming to stay at the farm for two weeks in June and was looking for some opportunities for volunteer work in the area, so I went to visit a few of the local shelters. One of them was eliminated immediately as I had some very real concerns for the safety of the students with the way that the dogs were kept. The tension level in the pens were quite sufficient that I could see fights breaking out quite easily. I went on to a new shelter primarily for cats and was quite delighted to find Animal Haven's new spaces. Noura el Daly had been working with her cats in Maadi for years but recently her sister offered her space out near our farms. A compound was built consisting of a series of rooms built around courtyards that afforded cats their choices of rooms in which to sleep and sunny spots for relaxation. The cats, and there are quite a lot of them, are not necessarily confined to one room and courtyard, but if they are sufficiently well-socialised, they can move among a choice of rooms, including one that has a ramp leading to a space on the roof.

There were more cats than I've seen in one place in a long, long time. Every possible colour and hair length was represented. Many of these cats are adult but rather than being frightened of humans and trying to escape attention, they sauntered over to purr against legs and offer heads for scratches and stroking. Dishes of food, rice with chicken, stood around for the cats to be able to eat at their leisure, and wooden benches covered in toweling, baskets, shelves and other interesting structures provided places for the cats to curl, sprawl, groom, and cuddle. The entire area was spotless and the attendants made a point of introducing us to their favourite inmates. The cats are neutered, vaccinated and available for adoption, but all too often people are wanting the cute factor of kittens and not interested in adult cats. I've had a lot of cats in my life and have had no problems adopting sympathetic adult cats. In fact, not having to put up with the crazy running around of kittens that almost inevitably leads to broken objects and torn curtains has been a real plus. One of our cats when we lived in Maadi was a totally blind female who wound herself around my daughter's legs just outside our doctor's office one afternoon. We called her Amelia and she presented us with four kittens as well in fairly short order. We were fortunate in being able to find homes for all the kittens and for Amelia as well, since we didn't think that it was fair to a blind cat for her to have to deal with a household with dogs as well.

Animal Haven isn't a dog shelter but they have a few dogs who have been left at the doorstep, so to speak. The dogs are baladi dogs, the street/desert/farm mutts that are ubiquitous here. They are also the smartest, most loyal, healthiest dogs that anyone could find and make the best possible watchdogs. I have two who patrol the farm every evening while my terriers find the best spots on the bed. The dogs are also given enough room, cleanliness, food and attention to make them delightful companions. I spoke to Noura after my visit suggesting that the students could come to help care for the animals, repair benches and baskets, and perhaps to do some rudimentary dog training to help make the dogs more adoptable. We'll see how things work out, but this is really a wonderful effort and hopefully more people will find their way out to adopt cats and the odd dog from Animal Haven.

copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani


COPDhorseman said...

FACTS are:
1) Horses CAN, by nature of their heredity, endure nature's elements at least 2-3 times as readily as human beings.
2) Horses "running wild on the open prarie" more readily die younger than those that are receiving periodic veterinary care.
3) Horses - particularly those that ARE "working (in one fashion or another)" - can live to be 30-40 years old. The "wild" ones usually aren't that lucky.

I'm ecstatic to read that you have enough brains to realize that horses given the PROPER (not only health-wise but also in their bond with human beings) care are much happier AND healthier "living a life of purpose"; rather than facing a life of uncertainty, or worse yet, just to make an enevitable trip to a glue or food factory.

I wish it were possible by sending them back in time, to take ALL of the "animal (ESPECIALLY horse) rights activists" back to a point in time before "human" evolution. Then we would see which of the two species would live longer.

Marion said...

Having lived here for over 17 years, with the promise (from my husband) that one day we would all go back to the US, I was in one of my "I hate Egypt" moods, when I stumbled upon your blog. I have to say that 7 ot of 10 day, I'm actually quite happy here, but lately all my foreign friends have chosen to go back permenantly, and I feel quite lonely. Keeping myself busy with teaching and private lessons, but on off days the depression sets in. My daughter is entering her 3rd year of college. She has already made it clear that she will NOT stay in Egypt when she is finished. However, my husband has made it clear (only recently) that we are here to stay. Sorry I'm rambling. As I said I just stumbled upon your blog. BTW I admire you and happy belated birthday.

Anonymous said...

its good to finally know that there are caring human to the cats here in egypt. a few months ago i found about 8 kittens were put in a small cage since they were sick, and most probably to be left to die. i couldnt stand the thought of it and decided to adopt 2, the others were adopted by a british family who own a pet shop in hurghada (we got them for free of course). my 2 kittens are now recovered after rounds of treatments by the vet, and happily and crazily running around the house. however, i am moving to saudi soon for work and am looking for someone to adopt them. the shelter looks taken care of, do you think the shelter will accept them?

Maryanne Stroud Gabbani said...

I honestly think that you should really either try to find a home for them, or even better, take them with you. This is a lovely shelter but it is already very full. Cats are easy to move compared to dogs and you did take responsibility. Sorry if I sound unsympathetic but I've lived here for a very long time and it really bothers me that people adopt animals and then abandon them when they have to move. Either take them with you or don't adopt in the first place.

S.Salaheldin said...

Hello there, just wondering if u have the new contact numbers for animal haven in Giza because I'm trying to reach them for volunteering & they've moved from Maadi! (their web site has no info yet) thanx a lot :)

Maryanne Stroud Gabbani said...

Try calling or sending an sms to 0108207460. That is the phone for the shelter in Giza.