The Egyptian capital has around a dozen pet shops. But Egyptians have been protesting against these establishments since the end of May, when videos showing animal abuse were published online. There’s no law that protects the animals so citizens are taking matters into their own hands.
At the end of May 2018, in the middle of Ramadan, an Egyptian woman put a photo on Facebook of a Husky puppy that had died in a pet shop cage in the heat, probably of dehydration. The pet shop in question was in a shopping centre in Maadi, a wealthy neighbourhood in Cairo. The cage was right in the sun in the hottest part of the day. Many people commenting on the photo called for the shop to be shut down.
“We want to keep an eye on the abuse, rather than condemning it without doing anything”
Leila Gheita is a 25-year-old student who saw the Facebook post and decided to act. She created a Facebook group called ‘Pet Shop Watch Egypt’. The group aims to make sure that pet shops that mistreat their animals “don’t go unpunished”.
After seeing these first few photos online, I went to different pet shops to check that the photo wasn’t just a fluke. And I saw even worse. Cages were holding several dogs at once and they were suffocating in the heat. There was no water or food in the shelters. The shops don’t have any ventilation systems. I found two cats, one dying and the other already dead, lying in a cage.
On May 24, Leila decided to organise a trip to a pet shop, along with around 60 people who had joined the Facebook group. They went to a well-known pet shop in the Maadi area.
We had a list of initial requests: water, food, and clean cages. We wanted to start up a dialogue with the pet shop owners and encourage them to take better care of the animals. To keep an eye on the abuse, rather than just condemning it without doing anything.
The owners of the pet shop were not happy. Gheita explained that during a second visit to the pet shop, the shop owners threatened the group of activists. One of the activists filmed the scene.
Confrontation between activists from ‘Pet Shops Watch Egypt’ and pet shop owners. Video by one of the activists of the group.
Little by little, the group is receiving accounts of animal cruelty and videos showing the state of some animals in different pet shops in the city.
Mona Bassel was one of the first people to join the group. Since the first group visit to a pet shop, she now considers helself a 'pet watcher'. Every day, she keeps an eye on pet shops' failings. Armed with a smartphone, she's made it her mission to document abuse and raise awareness.
"Animals are the last things Egyptians think about"
In the Maadi neighbourhood, you can regularly hear the cries of agony of cats or dogs. [Editor’s Note: Maadi is a wealthy district where most of the city’s pet shops are located.] But it’s difficult to do something by yourself. This group has helped us to get together with other people and lend weight to the cause. The most difficult thing is trying to do something in a society where, for lots of people, it’s normal to mistreat animals, which are the last things Egyptians think about.
Now, the Facebook group has over a thousand members. The main problem that the group is facing is that there’s no law that explicitly forbids animal cruelty. The Egyptian constitution, adopted in January 2014, says in its Article 45 that the state has a commitment to preserve plant and animal resources. It does allow order judicial proceedings in the case of harm to protected species. But there is no law in Egypt dedicated to the protection of animals.
Eventually, we want to put an end to the sale of animals in these shops, and encourage adoption. But this would mean defying a mentality, a culture. So we’re going step by step. Our members check on the shops regularly to make sure the animals are living in decent conditions. Some of our members have even bought certain products for the shops, like ventilators, cardboard to put on the floor of the cages, and food. The owners accept this.
To put pressure on the shops, the group members also make sure to assign them rankings on Facebook. They’re also planning to make stickers for pet shops with good practices to put in their windows.
The pet shop in the Maadi shopping centre did not want to respond to our questions when our journalist contacted them. We will update this article with their replies if we receive them.