With springtime comes the mating season, when stray dogs and cats answer nature's demand to procreate. By summer, neighborhoods that once had a handful of strays now have dozens more. This is particularly a problem with dogs, as the pups grow up to form feral packs that bark all night, chase after children and grownups alike, and if provoked or ill might even bite people. In turn, the animals are teased, abused, physically attacked and often killed by humans — thinning the population of strays until springtime and another round of uncontrolled mating and reproduction.
The Society for Protection of Animal Rights in Egypt (SPARE) estimates that one female cat and her offspring produce about 420,000 cats in seven years while one dog and her offspring can produce about 67,000 dogs in six years. Attempting to stop the cycle of abuse against stray animals, as well as protect people from possible attacks, various animal rights groups in Egypt have sprung to action. The solution, they believe, lies in neutering.
People dislike or fear strays for a number of reasons, including ignorance, annoyance or mistaken interpretations of religious views towards these animals. Often dirty, weak and sick, the animals are frequently abused, and local residents or municipalities often carry out shooting and poisoning campaigns in an attempt to control the stray population.
While animal rights activists have long decried these extermination campaigns as inhumane and contradicting of Islamic teachings, some argue that human safety comes first. Just a month ago a rabbid dog bit seven people in Qena, including four children.
Break the cycle
In a perfect world, all strays would find loving homes, but sheer numbers and widespread cultural views about house pets make that an unlikely scenario in Egypt. To control the stray animal population humanely, three local NGOs —the Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals (ESMA) , the Egyptian Society of Animal Friends (ESAF) and SPARE — have started a Trap, Neuter, and Release (TNR) program. A common solution in use worldwide, TNR programs involve capturing, examining, vaccinating and medically treating the feral animal, then neutering or spaying it and releasing it where it was captured.
The goal is to drastically reduce the stray population through humane procedures that benefit both the animals and the humans they share the streets with. A TNR 'graduate' poses less of a health risk to humans because the animal has been vaccinated and had its diseases treated. A spayed or neutered animal is also much less aggressive, because they are not experiencing hormonal urges and competing to mate.
Sterilized animals can also convert food to body mass more effectively, so they become stronger and more able to defend their territories against unsterilized strays.
While the TNR program is less costly in the long run than the current population control methods, it needs dedicated effort. Amina Abaza, SPARE’s founder and president explains that they are not using traps but physically trying to catch them.
“The catcher sometimes run after the dogs and cats to catch them or use [tranquilizer darts]," she says. "The cats and dogs can run for hundreds of meters. Even if they were caught by the [tranquilizers], they run with the syringe in their body; the catcher has to run after them and find them in case they are hiding somewhere."
The NGOs are targeting areas that they know have large populations of stray animals but are encouraging people to report areas with similar issues. *
Culturally, many of the general public, including pet owners, are against neutering and spaying, often because they fear it is haram (not permitted in Islam) to tamper with the natural order of things and the animals’ instincts.
However, recent fatwas issued by prominent Islamic scholars, including Salafi Saudi scholar Muhammad Ibn al-Uthaymeen, argue that if there is keeping the animal intact causes harm or if the procedure gives a general benefit to the community, and if the animals are unharmed or pained by the procedure, then it is permissible. Ibn Al-Uthaymeen’s view is that neutering and spaying animals is more humane and in accordance with religion than killing, abusing or poisoning animals which Islam absolutely forbids.
The NGOs are trying to raise awareness about TNR program, as they must convince the government, the local communities, and the municipalities of the expected long-term benefits to get their support. Some neighborhoods have started cooperating with the TNR program, providing volunteers and raising donations to help cover the costs of catching and medically treating the animals.
Abaza says manpower and money are desperately needed. "To work seriously and sustainably on this program, we need to get funds," says Abaza. "People think we are millionaires, which is not the case at all.” et
*To see how you can help, contribute to the program or report stray cats and dogs that need help contact SPARE, ESMA or ESAF.