Why Istanbul…why Cairo…why Mexico?
The answer is…“Because we can!”
Some people have asked us what the situation is in Egypt as it relates to dog rescue and how and why Golden Rescue got involved. We thought the best way to describe the Egypt dilemma is to give you a first-hand account of the journey to Cairo that we, Jane Riddell and Viive Tamm, Golden Rescue board members, took so we could understand what was going on and what, if anything, Golden Rescue could do to help. Before we relate our personal account of the trip, let us give you some general information on the situation in Egypt.
Like Istanbul, the stray dog problem in Egypt is dire. Of course, this problem exists in many countries but Golden Rescue can only help if there is an organized group of volunteers in the country where the problem exists. Since our involvement in Istanbul, we have been inundated with calls from other countries to see if we could help rescue Golden Retrievers. Unfortunately, most of these calls were from people who had no volunteers, money or mechanism in their own country so we could not help. Egypt, on the other hand, has a group of dedicated volunteers who, like in Istanbul, were able to organize rescue in their own country and get potential rescues vaccinated, vet checked, kennelled, and everything else required to ship a dog to another country for a better life. Mexico also has a wonderful group of volunteers equally motivated and organized.
Unlike Turkey, Egypt has a policy of euthanizing its strays. In fact, it is even worse as the current president is trying to ship strays to Korea from Egypt for the dog meat trade. Again, as we did in Istanbul, we went to Egypt (at our own personal expense) to see the situation for ourselves and to meet the wonderful volunteers there who are doing all the heavy-lifting with no government help either with manpower or money. They are the true angels. Our job is easy in comparison to these saints of the streets.
Our international Mission of Love is never to replace saving every single Golden who comes across our radar in Canada. In fact, the international program has garnered so much publicity that it has helped us grow in Canada. We have really grown in Quebec and are now getting inquiries from a number of different provinces including BC, Alberta, Manitoba, and the Maritimes. In fact, we have adopted Goldens to families in each of these provinces and as we get better known, we will be able to start to get foster homes in these provinces, which will allow us to grow even more. Eventually our goal is to be Canada-wide but this will take time. Early signs, however, are encouraging.
We truly believe rescue has no borders and a Golden in need is a Golden we should try to help so we go where we can, when we can. The problem world-wide is vast and sometimes we feel our efforts are like a drop in the ocean. Having said that, we never lose heart as we save one Golden at a time…no matter where that takes us.
Here are our personal reflections and observations of our trip to Cairo. We had a fair amount of trepidation about the trip before we left for Egypt…as both of us generally try to avoid anything that shows any animal suffering. We both flip past FB posts, switch channels or tell people to be quiet. We know suffering is out there and happening but we prefer not to see the gory details.
We knew that we would not be able to avoid experiencing it in Egypt but we had no idea of the magnitude of suffering (both human and animal) we would witness.
Leaving the airport in Cairo, we were struck by the drabness of Cairo ~ brown, grey, and dusty, despite the sun. It had rained that morning, which supposedly was a good luck omen. At the time, we didn’t realize how badly we would need it.
Mira, our main contact, picked us up at our hotel and took us to a small shelter in a building that had been owned by her family for generations. In addition to her shelter, it also housed the school that is her business and is how she funds her shelter.
Conditions were extremely basic, the facility consisted of a few rooms in the old building and a small outdoor area surrounded by a high wall. Dogs were not segregated from each other, but it seemed they were generally happy and social.
Photo Left: Mira with Jack #2896
Photos Below: Jane & Mira with Vicky #2887 & Laila #2922 & Mira at her shelter with her adoring Goldens.
There was a mix of small white dogs and we also met the first Goldens who would be part of the group we brought back with us to Canada ~ all young and extremely enthusiastic to see people! We left covered in kisses, dust, fur, and a fair amount of urine.
Off to the old market we went, which was the more ‘touristy’ part of Cairo ~ old but pretty clean by comparison to the rest of the city. The streets of Cairo and the surrounding areas were not maintained, the infrastructure is in bad shape, and we saw very few smiles. Mira drove like a typical Egyptian, which is to say fast and furious. Lane changes without warning, tail gating, and continual horn honking…all at high speeds (surprisingly very few accidents). The only accident we saw was the one we were personally involved in and we were in the car of the most conservative driver we caught a ride with. Apparently, she was driving too slowly so she was rear-ended. Driving always elicited a heightened awareness of our mortality. We were generally white-knuckled and high on adrenaline by the time we arrived at our destinations. And speaking of destinations, whenever we took a taxi or an Uber, we would have a general location but not a specific address, which was always exasperating as the driver would get to the area and then would have to ask multiple people, multiple times, if they knew where so-and-so was. Eventually, they would always figure it out but we were often lost, once in the middle of a slum where the garbage was being bulldozed. The stench was indescribable and our driver rolled up the windows and sprayed cologne around the car, which was almost worse. Little kids were playing in bare feet in human and animal waste and the people seemed despondent. We have both been to many parts of the world, and by comparison, the people of Egypt seemed to have very little optimism or hope. We heard anecdotally that the government is oppressive and the people are being taxed into poverty. The only part of the country that seemed to be flourishing was the military. Armed soldiers were everywhere and we saw lots of propaganda promoting the glory of the armed forces.
Our hosts, Mira and Simon, took us to a nightclub for ‘dancing on the Nile’ on our first night. There seemed to be a very small percentage of the population that was affluent enough to afford this type of luxury. We had a lovely evening getting to know our hosts better. It was late when we went to sleep and we both had our hotel windows open and after sleeping for about 10 minutes, we were awakened by the call to prayer. We were definitely not in Kansas. One thing that stuck with us from that evening was something that both Mira and Simon said to the effect that Egypt had a glorious past but they had an uncertain future.
The next day we went to another shelter ~ The Animal Protection Foundation.
Hanan, who runs the shelter, takes in mostly injured and sick animals. We were told there were 600+ dogs in her facility. Many had been badly abused.
It seems as though people generally make no effort to avoid running over a dog or a cat on the street. Many acts of outright cruelty ~ some dogs had been hit by cars, some tossed off balconies or thrown from cars. Some had been used for fighting.
There were only tiny signs of hope ~ a few young boys volunteering who clearly loved the dogs. And it was an ‘Open’ day, which meant that the public was invited to visit and adopt and we saw a couple of families with younger children who were in the process of finding a dog for their family. However, we learned that less than 1% of all dogs in shelters are adopted by Egyptians.
We were struck by how much dedication and compassion Hanan and her team had for the animals in their care. Some days it must surely seem like they are fighting a tsunami with buckets. We came away with a great respect for their unwavering determination to make a difference. We recently read, since coming home, that one district in Cairo had signed a TNR (which we believe stands for Trap, Neuter, Release) agreement, which is obviously the way to the future. If it is true that there are 22 million stray dogs in Cairo, the only hope to make a difference is through this more enlightened approach. Currently, the government has a policy of shooting and poisoning strays and most recently shipping them to Asia for human consumption. It is difficult not to judge, but when there is so much human suffering, it at least provides context for how these decisions are arrived at.
And it is not just dogs who suffer ~ cats, horses, and donkeys too. Many times, we saw donkeys and small Arabian horses pulling carts loaded to the max trotting along the 10-lane freeway. We saw a dead horse floating in the garbage-filled canal running through a Cairo neighbourhood…and a short distance away, people fishing in that same canal. And garbage was literally everywhere you looked. These are sights neither of us will ever forget.
Our final day, we risked our lives once again in a taxi to find the last shelter, ESME, from which we were taking dogs to Canada. We had met the owner Bahra at the nightclub and she wanted us to see her facility. She had just purchased another property and was in the process of building the shelter. After a long, frustrating, and convoluted drive, we arrived to find roughly a two-acre enclosed area. The ground was just dirt ~ no grass anywhere.
The kennels had largely been completed and there were dogs in residence but the bulk of them had not yet been moved over from the old facility. Walking past all the enclosures, we were serenaded by howling and barking and so many eyes looking at us as if to say “pick me, pick me…please save me”. Neither of us, including Bahra, had a dry eye. We met the man who was in charge of looking after the facility and once again, we were struck by the kindness and compassion of the people who were dedicated to making a difference for the dogs in their care.
Back to the hotel for a quick rest before beginning the long journey home that left at 1 a.m. We arrived at the airport six hours before our flight in order to get the Goldens into their crates, through security, and weighed and tagged.
Pictured Above: Mira and Jane with our precious cargo & Viive holding blind Gameela & 24 Goldens getting ready for the flight.
At the EgyptAir counter, it was determined that they could only board 18 of the 24 Goldens. To say it was stressful trying to determine which ones to take and which ones to leave behind was an understatement. After a lot of haggling, we were eventually asked if the crates could be stacked. We immediately said a resounding ‘yes’ and thankfully all 24 Goldens were boarded on our flight.
This was a three-day whirlwind, life-changing trip. Upon arrival in Toronto, there was the interminable delay once we got to Pearson as the dogs had been unloaded but forgotten outside the baggage area.
There was a mix-up with the birthdate of poor Alex, and the vet from The Canadian Food Protection Agency wouldn’t let Alex stay and we had to return him to Cairo on the next flight. This quite literally broke our hearts.
Before Alex was taken back to EgyptAir for his return flight, we solemnly and tearfully promised to bring him back to Canada (which we did a few weeks later). Despite Alex taking one for the team, we made 23 families and 23 Goldens happy that day.
Photo left: Alex #2889 now in Canada
Pictured Below: Babe #2898 , Jessy #2904 , Lucy #2895 , Ricky #2899
Our impressions of that trip will remain with us forever. We will remember the horror and the suffering. It seems that we humans have an infinite capacity to inflict cruelty on other species and on each other. But we have also come to realize that we also have an infinite capacity for kindness and compassion. We have immense respect for the shelter workers in Egypt who work so hard with so little to make a difference in a world that seems largely indifferent to their efforts. We are very proud of Golden Rescue for the work that we do. Even though it is a drop in the ocean, or perhaps a teardrop in the ocean is more accurate, it is a start. We MUST do what we can.
We do what we can but it never seems enough ~ what we have seen, both in Canada and abroad, can literally break our hearts. However, fretting, wringing our hands, and railing at the wind accomplish nothing.
Welcome To Canada!
Pictured Above: Cleo #2904 , Gameela #2890 , Jack #2896 , Sandy #2900
Last year we rescued 230 Goldens and we are approaching our 3,000th rescue… often from unimaginable circumstances. We do as much as we can and we do it with passion, love, and care…with the help of our tireless, like-minded volunteers, supporters, fosters, and adopters. It is our collective hope that drives us!
Mario #2901 driving home with his forever family.