The daily abuse of animals in Om el Donia is an epidemic that continues to spiral out of control leaving many animal lovers to wonder if rahma (mercy) still exists. These days it's easy to forget that Egyptians aren't the only ones struggling to make ends meet when the price of just about everything continues to skyrocket. The rising costs are now threatening to shut down Egypt's largest animal shelter – The Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals aka ESMA. Terrified that one of the few shelters doing their best to rescue as many animals in Egypt as possible that are under threat, we reached out to the founder Bahra Fahmy to find out how this big-hearted NGO got started and how we can help them prevent over 1300 animals from becoming homeless.
ESMA aka The Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals is a registered NGO that has been rescuing animals that have been in accidents, abandoned, poisoned or shot for the past decade. Its important mission sadly began with a sorrowful case of abandonment. “One day I saw someone throwing their own dog from the car, abandoning it, and then the dog started chasing the car," Fahmy describes heartbreakingly, "When I caught up to the dog it looked me in the eyes, and told me 'please leave me alone I want to try and catch them.' I started crying and I talked to god and asked him why are you doing this to me? This was the moment it really started.”
Shortly after this incident, Fahmy reached out to other animal activists about the idea. But, once again it would be another horrific tragedy which not only accelerated turning the idea into action but also provided the inspiration behind the name ESMA. “My son has a friend from Canada who is an animal activist, so we made an appointment to meet her [to discuss opening a shelter]. Before the appointment, I got a phone call from her screaming and telling me 'how are you people living in this country?' I asked her what happened. And she said that they were shootings dogs in front of her and that one of the dogs was pregnant. It was horrible because the dog was shot in the belly and the babies had fallen out. I took my car and 15 minutes later I got a called that she was dead. I don't know why, but I had named this dog ESMA,” explains Fahmy about the origins of the shelter's name.
In 2007, ESMA officially opened its doors beginning its quest to save hundreds of abused dogs, cats, donkeys, and even horses. Finding abused street animals has never been a challenge in a country that continues to believe that neutering is haram, but abandonment is not. Also making matters dreadfully worse is the hypocritical stance by Egyptian officials who continue ordering the mass murder of animals, despite a law forbidding the shooting of dogs.Looking to put an end to this terrible practice a conference was recently organised by animal rights activists. “Shortet El Marafaq is the one doing the shooting. These orders come from the governor. Believe it or not, the first day of the conference, the guy responsible for Giza was there, giving orders to kill hundreds of dogs while the conference was still going on,” describes an angered Fahmy.
This horrific policy is not only killing innocent animals, but also hurting Egypt's tourism. “The president needs to know if he doesn't already. I will print all the emails that I have of foreigners telling us that they will never come again to this country, because of what they've seen. They go to the pyramids and see the government killing the dogs there. Tourists are seeing it every day and this is affecting Egypt's reputation,” firmly believes Fahmy.
Adding insult to injury is that every time these indiscriminate mass murders of dogs take place, officials claim that they would never kill a friendly dog, a blatant lie, as there's plenty of photographic evidence of those poisoning harmless dogs and cats in places like the University of Cairo and the Gezira club. “Several times a day we get a call from people saying that they found puppies and that their mother has been poisoned. Our answer is 'sorry we can not take in motherless puppies because we have no one available to bottle feed', so we tell them to please try and bottle feed them and give them their shots until they are at the age of being vaccinated. Then we can take them after that because if we take in puppies that haven't been vaccinated they could pass on problems to the other dogs,” explains Fahmy.
ESMA would love to accept all animals, but doing so would require endless resources that are simply not available, and without responsible management would result in reduced care for the animals already there. “For the past years, we were accepting any abandoned dog. Any dog reported that will be killed we were accepting. But these days ESMA is financially a mess. We have agreed that we will not take any cases except for car accidents, those paralysed, or dogs that are victims of fires,” describes Fahmy about ESMA's policy.
The financial mess threatening to shut down ESMA is directly related to Egypt's decision to free float the pound in November. This decision created shortages in imports causing the price of just about everything to increase. To help ease the pain, many of the suppliers for food and medicine provide ESMA with what they need without asking for payment up front. However, these costs have begun to accumulate, and with no fixed monthly income in place, financial sustainability seems like an impossibility. “The bottle of medicine that used to cost 3 EGP now sells for 37 EGP on the black market. The first priority for us is always food and medicine,” compassionately pleas Fahmy.Making matters even more difficult is that at the end of the year ESMA will have to move locations again, and are desperately seeking at least three affordable feddans of land to house all the animals in one place, and possibly establish boarding as a means of generating a monthly income.
In the meantime, there are plenty of ways that you can help keep this important animal haven alive. The first and most obvious way is to adopt and spread the awareness to Egyptians that they should #adoptdontshop. All of ESMA's animals have been neutered and vaccinated ensuring that your new furry best friend will be healthy in its new fur-ever home.
If you can't house an animal, then consider the option of sponsoring. The cost to keep each animal healthy ranges from 400-650 EGP a month, so if you happen to have fallen in love with one of their many adorable residents, you can choose to sponsor them providing ESMA with a monthly income that they desperately need.
If you can't afford to help financially, then consider the fact that the 1300 animals are currently being taken care of by just a handful of big-hearted animal activists who would love for more volunteers to join their ranks. “I will die before all these animals will and we need to make sure there's a young generation of volunteers ready to take over,” passionately expresses Fahmy. Every Friday, ESMA organises dog walks between 1-4pm, and there's never a shortage of animals that need someone to give them a bath.At the same time, ESMA is always in need of donations for a wide variety of items including some that people often throw away. Check out the list below and know that even the smallest donation can help make a difference.Looking to help this dire situation, we're not only spreading awareness, but have raised thousands of pounds in donations, 30 kilos of dry food, chew toys and plenty of blankets as part of a #MO4Good initiative. It's still not enough, but a wonderful way to enlist animal lovers in any work place to help these adorable furry friends.
As it stands, ESMA is the largest animal shelter in Egypt, which means that the few other shelters that do exist are also likely in trouble. In order to make meaningful changes in the way the nation treats animals, Egypt needs to begin breaking down the misconceptions that exist about animals, discourage buying animals from breeders and pet shops, and encourage neutering while abolishing the mass killing of animals that continues to tarnish the image of a nation that once revered the animals it now abuses.
For more information on how to help please visit ESMA's Facebook by clicking here.
For an Arabic version of this article and video please visit our sister site Alscene.com
Photography: Mohamed Diaa and Eihab Boraie
Videography: Eihab Boraie and Mahmoud Sameh