Karim Hegazi spends his days at an Egyptian clinic taking care of animals long considered troublesome in the country: street dogs.
Stray – or wild – dogs can be found in almost every neighborhood in Cairo, Egypt’s capital. They run around building developments. They search through trash for food. They cry out nightly on top of parked vehicles.
The government says Egypt has about 15 million stray dogs. Stray dogs bite about 200,000 people each year, notes the World Health Organization. They also spread rabies -- one of the deadliest diseases in the world.
There are other reasons dogs have not been well-liked in Egypt. Many Muslims believe the animals are impure or not clean. A famous Islamic saying warns that angels will not enter your home if there is a dog inside.
But after centuries of negative comments, street dogs in Egypt are finding popular acceptance -- and support. That support includes medical care, as well as operations to prevent them from reproducing.
Volunteers use huge fishing nets and other tools to catch, vaccinate and operate on dogs before releasing them again. Such efforts aim to fight back against the usual government policy of killing street dogs by poisoning them.
Karim Hegazi, the animal doctor, said, “I’ve seen a major shift...people are seeing a value in strays.” Hegazi told The Associated Press he is treating more and more “baladi” street dogs, animals that people have taken in.
Growing acceptance of dog ownership
Egypt’s wealthier citizens have increasingly accepted the idea of dog ownership. In major cities, you can now find businesses such as pet grooming centers or hotels where dogs can be left when their owners go away.
Social media has played a big part in the movement. A Facebook group for animal doctors exploded into a community of 13,000 pet lovers who tell their stories. Animal shelters work to set up adoptions online by publishing pictures of dogs on Instagram.
What began online is expanding. People living in Cairo’s wealthy neighborhoods are forming spay and neuter teams. They aim to fight back against the government’s methods to control the dog population.
The General Organization for Veterinary Services is part of the Egyptian agricultural ministry. It often sends workers to kill stray dogs by releasing poison into the streets at night, many activists and locals say. They say they have woken up in the morning to find dead dogs along the sides of streets, or sick dogs crying out in pain.
“It’s a horrible way to die,” said Mohamed Shehata. He founded Egyptian Vets for Animal Care, or EVAC, the country’s first spay and neuter program.
The government agency did not answer a request for comment on its policy. But in a recent report, it described street dogs as a “time bomb that threatens our children.” It defended the “killing of dogs that are harmful to people,” noting Islamic law.
Controlling the population
Shehata described his group’s spaying and neutering efforts as “a more humane, scientific and effective way” to control the dog population.
On a recent morning, teams of volunteers ran after the wild dogs. Unpleasant loud sounds of barks and cries could be heard, as dogs got trapped in nets, and then given vaccines. The noises were loud enough to wake up people who were sleeping.
The methods may look severe, but Shehata says it is for the best -- and keeps the dogs safe from rabies for a year.
The dogs are also spayed and neutered at EVAC’s offices. They are then taken back to where they were caught. A small cut in their ear shows that they have been sterilized.
Shehata says his teams have treated about 10,000 stray dogs over the last few years.
Such efforts are being carried out in at least five neighborhoods in the center of Cairo. Local groups say they have seen dog populations remain the same or even shrink.
But animal experts say Egypt’s efforts still lack government support or a legal structure to protect stray dogs. This means their future remains uncertain.
“We will do our best to reach our targets,” Hegazi said, while carrying his next patient into the exam room. “But it’ll take a much longer time.”
I’m Ashley Thompson.
The Associated Press reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Are there stray dogs or other animals where you live? How does your city or community deal with them? Let us know in the comments section.
Words in This Story
clinic - n. a place where people get medical help
trash - n. things that are no longer useful or wanted and that have been thrown away
net - n. a device that is used for catching or holding things or for keeping things out of a space and that is made of pieces of string, rope, wire, etc., woven together with spaces in between
angel - n. a spiritual being that serves especially as a messenger from God or as a guardian of human beings
negative - adj. harmful or bad : not wanted
shift - n. a change in position or direction
grooming - n. the cleaning and caring of an animal
adoption - n. the act or process of taking in someone or something, such as a child or pet
spay - v. to remove the sex organs of a female animal
neuter - v. to remove the sex organs of a male animal