Kindness to animals means more than just protecting them against cruelty and also means being compassionate towards them, making sure that they have what they need in terms of food, water and shelter. And while some people have argued that the idea of being kind to animals is a luxury that only rich countries can afford, even sometimes mocking the idea of applying human rights to animals, a recent event in Egypt, Animal Mercy Day, has proved them wrong.
The event was the brainchild of physician Hatem Sittin, who organised the first Animal Mercy Day in Egypt on 21 May in collaboration with the Land of Horses Centre at the Egyptian Equestrian Club. The idea of the day was to mobilise civil society against animal cruelty and to raise awareness about animal rights in Egypt. Those present at the event also discussed the government’s role in spreading awareness of the importance of dealing humanely with animals, on the basis that mercy is not limited to a specific type of living being.
Nahla Al-Tamimi, an animal photographer, was there to document the event. She has been working on a photographic archive of dogs and horses over the past five years and believes that no photographer can deal with animals except one who loves them. She has dedicated much of her time to taking photographs of animals all over Egypt.
“I loved the Land of Horses Centre the moment I visited it. It is full of positive vibes and is in line with my work with Hatem Sittin. I learned that photographs, including of animals, should speak. If they do not, they are useless,” Al-Tamimi said. “I would like to see more freedom for creativity in Egypt so that all passionate photographers can attend and cover events of their choice without routine obstacles.”
During the Animal Day event, animal-rescue stories were presented by real rescuers, showing the seriousness of many of those there. There were also talks on less dramatic subjects, such as dealing with pets and street animals. “I have sometimes had trouble rescuing street animals, such as dogs,” said pet-rescuer Fadwa Khaled, 33.
“I have many dogs and cats at home. When I have tried to save them, I have tried to help them while letting them continue to live in the street. But if this is too difficult and they need special treatment, I take them home,” she said. Khaled said that sometimes her parents and neighbours do not really understand her pet-rescue work, saying that “you should help people instead” or claiming that the dogs are dangerous.
photos: Nahla Tamimi
“Some people in my neighbourhood do not like what I am doing, though no one has ever been harmed,” Khaled said. She had brought two street dogs for adoption to the event, one of them a one-month-old puppy suffering from a tumour and one an orphan who has lost his parents or siblings when they had been either killed by a car or poisoned.
“The dog-culling campaigns that the government used to carry out have been stopped, but there still should be a bigger role in raising awareness about street animals. People could raise funds to see that they are properly vaccinated and neutered, for example,” Khaled said.
Fortunately, the two dogs Khaled brought to the Animal Day found new homes before the event thanks to Lubna Helmi, vice-president of the Egyptian Federation for Animal Welfare and chair of the Animal Protection Foundation.
“The Federation brings together many private associations aiming to improve the lives of animals in Egypt. Usually, rescuers are individuals who seek our help through Facebook or a telephone call. Then we direct them to the most suitable shelter that can host the animals they have rescued,” Helmi said, who was also guest of honour at the event.
“I would like to see more people attending events like this day,” she said. “The event management should also say more about formal adoption procedures, as people rescuing animals should be aware that the animals need to be vaccinated and neutered and the adopters properly registered.” She would like to see Egypt’s laws on animal protection updated.
Lillian Iskandar, a teacher assistant, was also at the event. “My brother, and rescue partner, encouraged me to attend as we have many rescued cats at home, and we thought the day could be a good opportunity to find adopters for them,” Iskander said. She had arrived with a rescue cat that she had found a couple of months earlier along with the cat’s siblings who were not so lucky.
“We are used to having two or three rescue cats at home at a time. We search for a shelter or a family to adopt them, even sometimes outside the country. This cat was about to travel to Canada to live with a new family, but then we heard about this event,” she added.
“God has honoured human beings with reason, making them responsible for their actions and for other creatures, especially animals. I am not asking people to do much – just to put some food and water in the street, check under your car before driving off to make sure there are not cats underneath it, and don’t underestimate people who want to help weaker souls.”
The day dedicated part of its programme to honouring rescuers and adopters of street animals, as well as some of the shelters and animal rights and welfare associations in Egypt. Mustafa Abdel-Aty is one of those who were honoured, being a photographer who has been covering pet-shelter event since 2016 and then decided to organise his own.
photos: Nahla Tamimi
“Our first big event was called ‘Get Yourself a Dog’, where we had 80 attendees. The name was catchy, and it took place on Valentine’s Day. In general, we are aiming to raise awareness about street animals and trying to eliminate the fear that some people have of them,” Abdel-Aty said.
He and his team have now organised more than 50 events, and they continue to put on funny and informative ones with creative themes to raise awareness and help animals. They have a Facebook page called “Meow Tours,” the idea being that this can be a community where all those who care about animals can fit in.
The recent Animal Mercy Day hosted animal-rights activist Dina Zulfiqar, who gave a talk entitled “Mercy for Humans, Animals and Plants,” recapitulating the message she delivers when working with various government agencies. Sittin himself gave a talk on “halting cruelty to horses in Egypt” and another one called “how to save a dying animal in simple steps.”
Attending the event was free for everyone owning an animal or wanting to put one up for adoption. Accompanying pets were allowed, but only with pre-reservation so that appropriate precautionary measures could be taken regarding the number of attendees.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 June, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly