In a country bulging at the seams, where many people are battling to make ends meet, the conditions that face the cats, dogs, donkeys and horses are the last thing on many people’s minds. Yet, each and every animal is part of the community, with a vital role to play. ESMA founder Mona Khalil shares how she juggles her busy schedule as a broadcaster and TV anchor to further the safekeeping of the nation’s animals. Animal Protection Foundation in Egypt
CWM: Mona, what prompted you to start ESMA?
Mona Khalil: We are a group of women who shared the same points of view on animal welfare in Egypt and wanted to do something to change the condition of animals. Some of us were already involved with other groups but had differences in point of views and the rest had the will but had not started yet. Fate brought us together at the right time and we went for ESMA (Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals).
What have been the primary challenges?
Mona Khalil: The challenges were many. As usual in our community, initiatives related to animals face a lot of objections based on misconceptions related to religion, health and cultural attitudes, and of course there was the financial challenge.
How have you managed to get community support and involvement?
Mona Khalil: ESMA’s work was how we introduced ourselves to the community. People needed to know and see what was going on and see facts and figures. A lot of Egyptians are not aware of what is going on and some receive false information. All of this needed to be tackled and introduced to the people in the right way, and of course social media was our main tool.
What can you tell us about your animal care education program in the community?
Mona Khalil: With the help of some of our members, we have reached out to some schools and also schools have approached us asking to bring over students to ESMA. This of course was due to the awareness of responsible teachers who cared not only to teach the curriculum to students but to raise compassionate human beings too. We work to get the children to interact directly with the animals and to talk openly with us about their fears or anxieties and answer all their questions.
On the other hand, our work on the ground with people seeing us in the streets, rescuing, treating, and catching cats and dogs for TNR (vaccination and neutering to humanely control the street population) always gives us the chance to directly communicate with the public and address their concerns and fears and misconceptions.
What recent efforts by ESMA have increased public awareness and encouraged official bodies to take a stronger line in protecting animals in Egypt?
Mona Khalil: Our TNR project in Sheikh Zayed, the first with government approval and involvement helped us raise more awareness and show that killing street animals is never the solution and that there are more humane and scientific solutions. Also, our weekly enrichment program in the zoo helps us communicate with visitors and helps us guide them as to how to treat zoo animals, and what should and should not be done. Animal Protection Foundation in Egypt
Also our TNR program gave us the advantage of presenting our case strongly in front of the municipalities committee in the parliament to help tackle the issue of street animals and to insist on ending the poisoning and killing of dogs.
How important are TNR initiatives for cats and dogs in the community?
Mona Khalil: It is very important and the only real solution to the issue while also applying animal welfare.
What should people know about the important role that vaccinated, neutered street cats and dogs play in the wellbeing of the community?
Mona Khalil: Animals are part of the environmental cycle and every creature and being is there for a purpose and the presence of animals is of great importance for this cycle and with any imbalance the first to pay for it will be us, the humans. Animal Protection Foundation in Egypt
What can people do to help, even if their circumstances do not permit adopting an animal?
People can do a lot:
2- Donate (financial and in kind donations).
4- Volunteer at shelters.
5- Stop buying from pet shops selling animals.
6- Stop going to the circus.
7- Stop acts of cruelty to animals in the street or their neighborhood.
8- Report incidents of cruelty.
9- Demand that the authorities stop killing animals.
10- Demand a law for animal welfare.
11- Send telegrams and online protests to government officials.
12- Neuter their pets.
13- Raise their children to appreciate compassion.
14- Stop going to the zoo until conditions improve.
15- Speak up at every chance and opportunity on the horrific situation of animals in Egypt.