Development & Aid, Headlines, Middle East & North Africa

EGYPT: New Money Boosts Puppy Mill Industry

Emad Mekay

CAIRO, Dec 4 2009 (IPS) - A few years ago, dog markets were dull places with pooch purveyors keeping an eye open for more lucrative business.

But as Egypt’s housing industry boomed, featuring luxurious villas and swank homes in its new desert cities, the puppy mills grew more active with little thought spared for canine comfort.

“Puppy mills have spread so much, particularly in the past five to 10 years,” said Tamir El Abd, owner of the MMK Cairo Kennel, in an interview.

“What really fuelled the industry was the migration to the suburbs,” said El Abd, who started his own kennel in 2006, now spread over 1,200 sq m and offering boarding and training services for the rising canine population.

Egypt, the most populated Arab country with its 82 million people, adopted an economic liberalisation programme from the mid-1990s that transferred public assets into the hands of a few local business people and concentrating wealth among their cliques.

The country also sends millions of educated Egyptians to work in the neighbouring oil rich countries. Many come back awash with cash that is invested in clusters of new single-family homes and apartments in upscale developments around the capital.

Among the new suburbs is Sixth October City, known for its nouveaux riches. The unsavoury side of the new money is that it has attracted crime and burglaries often traced to the same uneducated manual labourers who helped build the luxury homes, police here say.

The city’s downtown area now boasts five busy pet stores selling guard dogs compared to only one two years ago. Guard dog prices climbed from 200 Egyptian pounds (36. 6 US dollars) to at least seven times that figure for a puppy during the same period.

The fancier kennels that abound near the new developments in Mansoria and the Desert Road sell canines for upwards of 3,000 pounds (545 dollars).

Egypt is now gearing up for its first ever dog show this spring at the Al- Gezira Club organised by breeders. Along with the pooch pageant will be held the country’s second ever animal and dog welfare conference. The Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals (ESMA), one of the new animal defenders’ organisations, says breeding conditions are getting worse as business gets better. The group complains of dogs forced to share cages, regardless of size, breed or gender. Many are not vaccinated and often deprived of food and water.

At the Friday market breeders can be seen parading grown German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Great Danes and Pit-bulls, encouraging them to bark and even fight as a way to lure prospective buyers looking for aggressive guard dogs.

A German Shepherd bitch tethered to an iron rod whined as one of her 45- day-old litter was taken away, the rest remaining caged, soiled and hungry.

“This is how we make a living,” was how one seller who identified himself as Sayed justified the cruelty. “Had we found a more dignified alternative we wouldn’t be here trading in dogs.”

Some of the small pet stores that sprang up in Fifth October City and other cities treat their puppies better. The dogs here are considered lucky because they are fed every now and then.

But, behind those pet stores is an army of suppliers of small time breeders with cages on the roof of their homes.

Samir, ‘the Shepherd’, so nicknamed because he deals mainly in German Shepherds, combs nearby towns and villages for people ready to part with puppies. His forays result in harvests of 10 newborn pups each fortnight on average.

“Mr. King and Golden Fish buy from me at low prices and sell very high,” said Samir referring to two popular pet stores in the city. “I too buy cheap and sell dear. We all make money this way.”

ESMA, founded late 2007 in response to the rising abuse of animals, accuses the government of tolerating animal and dog cruelty by not regulating traders like Samir, the kennels or pet stores despite calls from animal rights activists.

“All of the stores and kennels have no veterinary oversight whatsoever from the government,” said Mona Khalil, vice-president of ESMA in a phone interview in Cairo.

“It is a very bleak picture,” Khalil said. “It is almost a lost cause but we are trying hard to improve things. It is not easy.”

For Sayed, groups like ESMA are “cruel to humans”.

“Before they get the police to chase us, they should find us jobs,’’ Sayed said. “What is better? To be tough on animals or tough on us – the sons of Adam?”

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