The birth and journey of TNR Zamalek
I moved to Egypt in November 2017. As soon as we settled into our apartment in Zamalek, I was surprised and saddened by the vast amount of street animals roaming and eating garbage, some looking OK, others bearing the scars of many fights for territory and mating, many females looking young but in poor shape. Not to mention the overwhelming number of kittens getting hit by cars, suffering from infections, left to fend for themselves, or taken from their mother and abandoned in a box in the middle of the pavement.
The scale of the problem was something I had never witnessed before. At the beginning, I was not thinking of creating a large-scale program, I didn’t have any contacts and I didn’t speak the language. My focus was to help the animals in front of my building and in my street.
My first attempt at TNR was a beautiful ginger cat called Tata, who would follow me to my house and would regularly wait for me downstairs screaming for breakfast. I thought she was tame…well, that changed quickly when we caught her by hand and put her in a crate (it took three attempts on different days), she scratched me and the bawab helping me multiple times!
The price of her surgery and aftercare made me realise it was not something I could replicate on a large number of cats. So, I started visiting vet clinics in Zamalek asking for their cooperation in setting up a system for TNR street cats and dogs and not one of them agreed, some offered small discount on procedures but no other assistance, some said they were not interested. Nobody had trap cages for cats nor blow pipes to dart dogs, hardly anyone had dog boarding space. It looked like a lost cause.
Several people were instrumental in setting up what would become TNR Zamalek.
I met Ayten, a professional dog walker/pet sitter, when I hired her to walk my dogs and we quickly became friends, sharing a passion for animals and rescuing. Ayten got in touch with Egyptian Vets for Animal Care (EVAC) an NGO created by Dr Mohammed Shehata, the veterinarian who pioneered TNR programs in Cairo. Together, Ayten and I rallied up support: Ahmed Hamed (now owner of VOV Survivors Shelter) provided the transport, Ramy Morsi from EVAC brought the cat trap cages and provided the expertise on how to successfully run a cat catch. I sponsored my first 6 cats in September 2018.
I was very impressed with how smoothly everything went and how cost-effective it was to partner with EVAC. Despite being based in Maadi they were willing to come to Zamalek and trap the cats, take them to their clinic, sterilize, vaccinate and return them to the catch location. The partnership with EVAC started as a one-off catch and now we are fast approaching 1,000 cats! Dr. Shehata and Ramy Morsy have been wonderful allies who have stood by us through thick and thin.
Those first 6 cats are still thriving today, almost 3 years later, no more fighting, no injuries, their coats looking beautiful, well fed and happy.
Nihal Selim, the driving force behind Friends of Zamalek Stray Animals (FZSA), also helped me set up TNR Zamalek and really focus on my core mission. FZSA’s scope of work is slightly different, they feed the strays, rescue the abandoned animals, find adopters in Egypt and abroad and treat the sick ones as well as sterilise the animals in their care. Nihal has an extensive network of contacts and is very well respected in the community, her involvement with TNR Zamalek helped us reach more people quickly and her words of advice and encouragement have been invaluable.
Initially the TNR Zamalek team was very small, with only a handful of people (mostly foreigners). I managed the social media and did most of the fundraising. Over the years the team has expanded, we lost some volunteers who left the country, we acquired new people interested in our project and I now have a great team of catch coordinators, hands-on volunteers who take a lead on the implementation of our program, and approximately 8-10 volunteers who attend catches and participate in other activities on an ad-hoc basis.
We divided the map of the island in three phases and started promoting our work directly with our personal contacts, local businesses and international organisations based in Zamalek. It took time to build trust in the community. We only operated when we had enough funds to run catches, at the beginning we only did one catch a month, maybe two if we were lucky. Now we run an average of 3 catches per month and have increased the number of cats per catch from 10 to 15.
The dog situation was slightly different, the population of dogs was a lot smaller, and currently we have reached the dog management stage which means that all the dogs living in the streets of Zamalek are sterilized and we only catch newcomers who wander in from either side of the bridge. Unfortunately, there are no TNR programs in Mohandessin, Imbaba or Downtown as yet, so their population is still growing. We have added Up Vet Association as our partner for dog catching and they have been collaborating successfully with us for 2 years.
Little by little the community in Zamalek has learnt about TNR and the benefits of a controlled population of street animals. Not everyone who has sponsored a catch has done it to help the animals, some people just want to stop the increase of cats in their garden or building, or maybe stop the noise made by mating calls and intense fighting. Others were touched by what they saw in the street and didn’t know there was a way to help them without harming them. Whatever the reason, we have managed to help almost everyone who called us and had good intentions.
Unfortunately, we also face a lot of criticism. Some people believe that dogs and cats need to mate and it is not our right to interfere, some people have religious concerns, some people believe that surgery harms the animals and some people told us we should help people instead of animals.
To help address concerns, and to educate and bring awareness to the animal welfare cause, we are publishing online resources: we created a series of FAQ based on messages we receive regularly in our inbox, we are working on TNR myth busters and hopefully in the future an education tool for high school students and younger pupils. We are also helping the creation of new TNR programs, showing that you don’t have to be a vet, you don’t have to have many contacts nor a large group of volunteers to start your own program. You just have to be committed, creative in your fundraising and keep knocking on doors.
The road to controlled animal population in Zamalek and in Cairo more broadly is still very much an uphill one, but there are more and more people who are getting involved in animal welfare activities, so the future is bright for the baladis of Egypt!
As my time in Egypt is almost up, I am proud to say I created an organization that is successful and will thrive even after I will no longer be in Zamalek to run it, because it is created around the welfare of the animals and run by selfless people!