Animals in Egypt Are Victims in Uprising Too
"Any time there's a political crisis and lives get turned upside down, the animals are always going to suffer," Kristen Stilt, a board member of the Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals (ESMA), tells PEOPLEPets.com. In the midst of the rioting and protests, many residents who were evacuated were forced to abandon their pets and turn to ESMA for help. Pet stores and zoos have also been closed for days, with no one able to care for the animals trapped inside. And cats and dogs already on the streets have been exposed to the tear gas being used against protestors.
"There are injured animals on the street, and foreign nationals who were told to leave their animals behind," Stilt says. "We've been getting calls from panicked foreigners."
There isn't much of an animal welfare insfrastructure in Egypt, so its assistance projects and organizations are few and fragile. Formed in late 2007 following a horrific shooting spree of street dogs by the Egyptian government, ESMA was created to fight this notion of population control and to protect and rescue the animals in immediate danger.
Whether by helping animals abandoned in homes or at local pet stores, ESMA does what it can to investigate and rescue as many pets as possible. The 10-person, Cairo-based staff fields multiple calls a day from owners looking for any kind of assistance, but with only one driver in the troubled city and limited shelter space, they can only save so many.
"We have 600 total animals, about half [of them] dogs and half cats. And one full-time vet because that's all we can afford," Stilt says. "We're stretched to the maximum."
Stilt, who is based in Illinois, says that despite being understaffed, the organization hopes to raise awareness and additional funds to support search efforts and keep the shelter running during the country's crisis.
"[Donations] are going toward the basic daily food and medicine needs – the immediate operational expenses and additional ambulance-type vehicles to get to pet shops," Stilt says.
Stateside, author Gwen Cooper, whose 2009 book Homer's Odyssey details her relationship with a three-pound blind cat, took to her blog and her vast 20,000-plus fan base to make a personal plea and reach out to other animal lovers who want to help.
"I am a passionate advocate on behalf of animals," Cooper says. "But there is a personal level in which this strikes me."
In Homer's Odyssey, she recalls the terrifying moments following the events of 9/11, when she raced back to her apartment near the World Trade Center to try to save her cats. She eventually rescued her animal family, and now she's doing what she can to help other families and pets going through their own struggle.
Via her mailing list, Facebook friends and the Twitter followers she has gathered thanks to the success of Homer's Odyssey, Cooper is talking to as many people as she can to raise awareness.
"Animals are not citizens of countries, they are citizens of our hearts and our hearts have no borders," she says. "I don't see this as an Egyptian problem. I see this as a humanitarian problem."
To donate, visit ESMA at www.esmaegypt.org.