We sit down with the founders of The Dogs Network to find out how life for the pooches of Cairo can be improved in a city where they face a myriad of daily struggles from careless vets to poison to societal misconceptions...
The unwelcoming streets of Cairo are a rough place for pups. Its dark alleys might provide plenty of places to hide, its garbage filled streets provide plenty to eat, and tons of bitches to meet, but every second in this city feels like it could be my last. Chemicals, fights over territory, hunger, over breeding, and of course the worst, humans, can make living here hell on earth. At least that is what I thought until I was saved by my human life companion, and with the help of The Dogs Network, I’ve started having a reason to like this city.
I tried living the streets of New Cairo, but every day was struggle. They say my father was a German police dog, and my mother was some baladi bitch but they, along with whatever siblings I may have had, are missing. The only family I know is the big-hearted boy named Kamel, a bawab’s son who bears the scars of a previous dog attack. During the day we would play, and at night he would keep me in a dark hole, fearing I may be attacked by the bigger dogs in the neighbourhood. I knew he loved me, even though he kept me a secret from his family. He gave me whatever food he could, but despite his best efforts I was slowly dying of hunger. Alone on a hot day, I reached a breaking point in my uncomfortable confinement and thankfully, my maddening screams and whimpering cries were heard by a couple who finally gave me a home off the streets.
Given the name Max I began my new life as a domesticated dog. The couple who chose me to be their life companion had big hearts, but no yard and they didn’t want my new home to feel like prison. New to New Cairo, my best friends struggled to find places that are accepting of dogs in a nation still entrenched in traditional misconceptions that go so far as to think some of us are some kind of demon. Just when we thought there was no hope, their smart Frisbee stumbled upon The Dogs Network. Our lives instantly changed as we finally found listing of doctors, pet stores, dog parks, dog friendly restaurants and hotels that exist in different districts in the city. The network enriched my life, and I felt the urge to thank the dogs behind the network and wanted to know how I could help their community grow. I reached out to Arya and Antar, and we agreed to have a chat and a chase around The Tipsy Teapot in Maadi.
Introducing themselves, Arya describes her position at The Dogs Network as the Executive Pack Leader, while Antar acts as the Operational Pack Leader. According to Arya, these two partners first met at “a public park in Maadi where dogs and their life companions meet once a day for an hour. Although it is a small park it is one of the few times where we get to run off-leash outside with like minded dogs looking to strengthen our community.” With little to no informational sites for dogs and their best friends in Cairo, the pair quickly embarked on filling this void out of necessity.
Both Antar and Arya tells me that their lives began as commodities in two different kind of breeding centers. Antar, a purebred Cane Corso, entered the world in a certified breeding center, while Arya, a mixed Labrador, was birthed by a home breeder. Although the streets and shelters of Egypt are filled with dogs that need to be rescued, most still turn to breeders for their furry companions. The main reason for this preference is because discrimination in Egypt transcends beyond just humans; some of us act as nothing more than social status symbols for masters looking to show off their canine slaves, and more often than not, the first question many strangers ask is not our names, but rather our price tags. According to Arya, “Depending on breed and pedigree, an official breeder can fetch up to 5-10K and in some cases can reach 20K. While unofficial home breeders usually range around 1-4k, however home breeders often breed sister and brother resulting, in higher risk of contracting a genetic diseases.” Arya was fortunate enough to avoid contracting a genetic disease, but Antar who came from a supposed official breeder, was not.
Although there are plenty of terrible masters in the world, Antar will be the first to tell you that he was one of the lucky ones who was bought by a life companion that would go to the far ends of the earth to keep him happy and healthy. “I suffer from a condition called Osteogenesis Imperfecta. It is a genetic disease that painfully affects my bones, teeth and energy levels. My best friend took me to 10-15 vets before my condition was finally identified,” describes Antar of his ordeal to discover the reason for his ailment. “At the time The Dogs Network hadn’t been created, and that is why we’ve included doctor listings on the network that allows users to rate/comment on their experience, ultimately reducing the amount of time required to find a caring and trustworthy doctor.” Arya quickly agrees, pointing out that “Egyptians love chemicals, they love medicine, and vets are no exception. The majority don’t even check if the dog is allergic, they don’t even ask. If they do an operation, they just give a very strong anesthetic so that the dog sleeps faster. Too many of my friends have died at the hands of a vet because of wrong dosages or wrong medications. It happens a lot even in very well known and fancy clinics.”
Telling a good doctor from a bad one can be difficult. In our collective experience it isn’t how fancy a clinic looks that dictates its credibility, but rather the way the vet treats you on your first visit. If the vet asks your name and not your price tag and showers you with love then chances are he will go the extra mile to make sure you are healthy. However, if they seem disinterested and more concerned with getting you in and out, then chances are they don’t care, and will be more likely to make a mistake when providing treatment. Knowing the right vet is pivotal to reaching our dog years, as the streets of Egypt are filled with poisoned food, a wide array of abusers, and millions who still believe a black dog prevents angels from entering the home.
Furthermore, there are plenty of irresponsible dog owners who import dogs that are not suited or a desert climate. “Siberian huskies are becoming very popular, and yet people fail to recognise that they are called Siberian for a reason. They only thrive in frigid climates, so how oblivious do you have to be to think raising them in the desert is a good idea?” Antar quips. These are the same sort of people who believe the bigger their dog the better, failing to recognise the health complications associated with over feeding or using hormones to add bulk. “Humans like seeing their dogs BIG! They don’t even know the difference between a strong dog and an unhealthy dog, which will suffer from joints problems, heart problems and a lot of other medical issues, reiterating the importance of having a good doctor,” an upset Arya remarks.
Heartless monsters disguised as humans are our biggest threat. They think all of us are rabid (when only few ever are) and their sole goal is to eliminate us all. Their feeble attempts continue to fail and only harm unwanted targets. “The dogs that die from the poison are usually rescue dogs or dogs owned by people. We know a lot of friends who have died from the poison,” sadly recounts Antar. “A poison that can kill a 20-something Kg dog, kills a 20-30Kg child just as quick. There have been reports that they have seen poison being placed outside of schools,” a baffled Arya explains adding, “the government uses Strychnine, which is very fast acting and hard to detect. So, people who get annoyed by barking dogs or are afraid of the dogs in their streets use the same powder. To keep people informed we post about poison citing immediately on our Facebook and website.”
The only chance we dogs have of a safe future is to strike back, and the three of us quickly began brainstorming to devise a plan. Killing all humans seems like a good idea, but would be time consuming and inhumane. We identified that there are entirely too many humans and that the best long term strategy is to prevent them from reproducing. Thinking out loud I say, “Maybe we can trap them?” As if I flipped a light switch in Arya’s brain, she brilliantly suggests neutering them, and letting them naturally reduce their numbers. It was wise old Antar who compassionately convinced us to release them afterwards, reminding us that not all humans are horrible and that some make great companions that could be a useful ally in the fight to come. A lot of changes need to be made in Egypt not just for dogs but all animals. It starts with building and unifying the dog community, which is one of the main reasons The Dogs Network was created. Explaining their mission Arya envisions that The Dogs Network can “Act like an online virtual dog park. We want to be more than a site with dog-friendly listings; it aspires to be a site with educational articles for humans to understand and communicate with their dogs better.” The hope is that with a growing number of followers, The Dogs Network can expand its features in the near future to provide listings for dogs that need adoption or have gone missing, booking pet friendly vacations, and inspiring to have a vet available 24/7 for advice.
As it stands, dogs have been given very few rights, and the only way to be granted any sort of justice is to have your human companion officially register your existence with the government. According to Arya, “If you are dog-napped or poisoned, you have a right to file a police report and have the responsibility of doing so. The only way the government will know how big the dog community is and feel the pressure to make the changes needed is if we collectively commit to registering and filing reports of abuse.” The more of us there are the harder it will be for the government to ignore our demands, and thanks to the unifying power of The Dogs Network, change seems possible and life more enjoyable.
At the end of the day both dogs admit that the network would have never existed without the tireless efforts of their best friends Jasmin Hussein and Sarah Zohdi. Special thanks are owed as these two are largely responsible for making life better for us dogs.
Photography by Mohamed Diaa