by Ahmed Shafiq
CAIRO, Oct. 4 (Xinhua) -- Amid the green farms of Giza governorate in Egypt, stray and abandoned dogs can have a safe haven at HOPE Society, a welfare sanctuary that provides food, medication and housing for all sorts of dogs.
"This place is home to tens of abandoned, lost, stray and injured dogs," Ahmed al-Shurbaji, founder of HOPE told Xinhua, noting that he has so far rescued some 160 dogs since two years ago.
Every year on Oct. 4, the World Animal Day is celebrated around the globe to pay tribute to those animal lovers like Shurbaji and to raise people's awareness of animal protection.
Shurbaji's sanctuary is an organization that provides a network of rescuers, sponsors and medical resources to help save and rehabilitate dogs in Egypt, the most-populous Arab country that has no strong animal rights protection laws.
Shurbaji, a young Egyptian civil engineer in his 20s, said he never thought he could start such project despite his love to animals. But the heartbreaking sufferings of many animals in his country made him think of giving a hand.
"I started to rescue and help animals and send them to private clinics, but all of a sudden I found out that I'm paying much for the medication and treatment of 13 dogs. At that very moment I decided to start the shelter project," he said as dozens of dogs cheerfully surrounded him, playfully barking and jumping in joy.
Starting with a small shelter in Cairo, Shurbaji and a few number of activists began to rescue dogs across the country and raise funds for treating and feeding the animals.
It did not take long time until the shelter was known among Egypt's only six dog sanctuaries, and in a few months it became packed with dogs.
"This forced me to think of moving to a larger place which should preferably be away from the city," he said as he checked a dark brown Labrador recently diagnosed with cancer.
HOPE now is a three-acre safe-house, with a vet clinic, located in Shabramant village in the countryside of Giza governorate, where wheat, corn and vegetables are grown; a healthy and preferable environment for animals.
At the moment, the shelter offers comfortable rooms for some 108 dogs where they can enjoy vast spaces and play areas.
The dogs are being cared of by highly trained pet care providers 24 hours a day, with two vets to deal with any urgent medical problems the dogs may suffer from.
Throughout his two-year rescue work, Shurbaji, has been facing criticism in the Middle Eastern conservative country for helping animals when millions of Egyptians suffer from poverty, unemployment and homelessness.
The man also said he wants to change the misconception of many people in Egypt who are wrongly told by some clerics that dogs are traditionally unclean and impure and they should stay away from them.
"Our target here is not only to rescue, rehabilitate or re-home ... we want to encourage people to adopt dogs and treat them humanely," he said. "Those people cannot touch my feelings when I see a dog joyfully playing with his mates after a long suffering in the street."
In Egypt, animal adoption is not a common phenomenon as most of animal lovers depend on pet stores which sell pets, mainly dogs, for very high prices.
"I aim to spread the culture of pet adoption which is growing slowly in Egypt. This will also boost me to help more dogs as adopting dogs will make space for new ones," said Shurbaji, whose shelter has nearly no room for newcomers.
Shurbaji further explained that HOPE is not just a shelter, adding that his staff teaches rescued street dogs to be home pets to get accustomed to home life once adopted.
So far, HOPE managed to help dozens of people adopt dogs in the past two years. During the past 11 months, HOPE sent 38 dogs to their new homes in Canada, U.S. and Europe.
"I have good relations with other international sanctuaries and animal rights activists all over the world and they help me find people abroad to adopt my dogs," he said.
The job Shurbaji does is really great and applaudable, but things are not very rosy to him as they really appear to everyone.
The founder of HOPE said the lack of finance is a major obstacle that may hinder or slow down his work at times.
"HOPE mainly recounts on donations and fundraising for the food, the rent of the sheltering house and salaries of the workers," he said. "Sometimes we have no budget to receive or rescue more dogs and they just end up suffering in the streets."
Every month, the man needs to get at least 40,000 Egyptian pounds to pay for the expanses of the shelter, including the salaries of his eight-member team.
"But I never give up... I will spend everything I have to provide dogs with better lives," he said, cuddling a five-week old little German shepherd puppy which was recently rescued by Shurbaji's team.