Hoping one day will bring a “revolution” in animal protection
Dina Zulfikar at a gathering for World Animal Day
Dina Zulfikar had her hands full looking after animals who were caught up in the protests and upheavals in Egypt.
But no more so than usual. And it all began at her childhood home in the now world-famous Tahrir Square – most recently the site of the peaceful Egyptian revolution that has captured the hearts and minds of people worldwide. Back then, 35 years ago, the family had six dogs: Tango, adopted in Kenya, and five Egyptian former street dogs. One of them was saved by her aunt when she saw him being hit by a car.
Dina graduated in Business Administration, but now, at age 48, spends most of her time protecting animals.
“Animal welfare in Egypt isn’t taken at all seriously,” she says. “There are 28,000 Egyptian organizations working for humans, but only 15 working for animals, including the Brooke Hospital for horses and the Donkey Sanctuary. They do the best they can, but the amount of suffering and abuse that happens every day is vast.”
Egypt has a long and honorable history with animals. Cats in Egypt appear to have been domesticated around 4,000 years ago, during the Middle Kingdom, when they stopped being seen as just helpful in keeping down the rodent population and started becoming pets. At one time, it was a capital crime to kill a cat — even by accident.
Amenhotep the First had a cat called Buhaki, who is shown sitting between the king’s feet, and Prince Thutmose, son of Amenhotep III, laid his cat, Ta-miut, to rest in her own sarcophagus.
Dogs were equally popular – maybe more so.
“In whatever house a cat has died by a natural death, all those who dwell in this house shave their eyebrows only,” wrote Herodotus in his Histories after visiting Egypt in the Fifth Century BCE. “But those in which a dog has died shave their whole body and also their head.”
At Abydos, part of the cemetery was set aside for dogs. And cats were regularly mummified and buried with their people. (See photo right.)
But today, by contrast, dogs are often reviled, and treated as “unclean” according to religious proscriptions.
Last year, Dina attended the Asia for Animals Conference, and says she was the only Arab woman present.
“I attended the conference representing the Egyptian Society of Animal Friends (ESAF),” she says. ESAF focuses mainly on wildlife. “No other Arab country was represented.” She notes, though, that several Gulf nations have taken major steps to establish wildlife conservation programs.
Dina works hard for animals of all kinds. “If a donkey is pulling a heavy load, I stop the cart and tell the carter that, if he is serious about his work, he should also be serious about looking after his animal. I sometimes refer to passages about this in the Holy Qur’an and Holy Bible. If I see children abusing an animal, I stop, release the animal and explain that animals are sentient beings.”
She’s also working to protect animals sold in pet stores, where conditions are very sub-standard.
“Current legislation does not provide protection, but we will not give up,” she promises. “We will continue to keep up the pressure until these pet shops are forced to close.”