Why you should care
Because the pyramids will be around for a lot longer than these puppies and kittens.
As I soak in the iconic Egypt view — the Sphinx with a distant pyramid backdrop — I’m distracted by a faint whimper. As a dog mom, I know that sound. And, after traveling in the country for seven days, the scene I soon encounter is an all-too-familiar one: A worn-out, stray mother dog, watching her pups scrounge for scraps, lies 100 feet from an ancient wonder.
It’s heartbreaking, but thanks to a tour-based initiative centered on helping the stray dogs and cats of Egypt, I’m hopeful for these pups and the 15 million like them countrywide. Meow Tours, Egypt’s first organization to run stray-animal-focused walking tours and day trips to animal shelters, is showing Egyptians that dogs are safe, clean and worth saving. Even better? This pro-animal tourism coincides with Egypt’s tourism resurgence, which includes the new Sphinx International Airport and the soon-to-open Grand Egyptian Museum, the largest archeological museum in the world.
Participants learn about each shelter’s work while playing and cuddling with the animals.
Mostafa Abdel-Aty launched Meow Tours in March 2019 as a way to counter Egypt’s age-old beliefs about dogs. In Islam (91 percent of the country is Muslim), dogs are seen as dirty and impure. The government’s harsh answer — a mix of poisoning and shotgun execution — reflects many Egyptians’ views on the animals. But Abdel-Aty, like a growing number of local young animal lovers, disagrees.
If he could, he says, Abdel-Aty would rescue every stray he meets. But, there’s one problem: Asthma prevents him from having pets at home. So about a year ago, he channeled that pent-up passion to address the root of Egypt’s stray-cruelty problem.
“I started this because I thought it would raise awareness of people in the streets,” Abdel-Aty says. “[Bystanders] watch us feeding and playing with [the dogs] without any problem, and this might change something in them.”
During the free tours, participants walk through the streets of Cairo feeding and interacting with the stray dogs and cats. For Meow Tours’ second mission — supporting shelters through funds and adoptions — Abdel-Aty organizes trips to local shelters. Here, participants learn about each shelter’s work while playing and cuddling with the animals. Those who want to can donate or learn about adoption. Socialization is one of the most important outcomes from a Meow Tours visit and can put shelter animals on a quicker path to becoming adoptable pets, according to Ahmed al Shurbaji, founder of the Hope Egyptian Balada Rescue & Rehabilitation shelter. With more than 300 dogs and cats, Hope staff can only play with each animal so much.
Some see the tours as the path to a gentler coexistence between animals and humans in Cairo. “I felt so delightful seeing all these cats and dogs being taken care of and how happy and friendly they were,” says Abeer el Garhy, a Cairo resident who visited a shelter on a Meow Tours trip in 2019. “You sense peace and love in their eyes.” She sees the tours as a good way to raise awareness, for adults and kids.
Changing a systemic belief can seem insurmountable, and Abdel-Aty gets regular reminders of the tough road ahead. Locals periodically criticize Meow Tours’ work during walks, with comments like “humans need this more than animals,” and “you’re all rich and don’t know how to spend your money.” But for Abdel-Aty, these comments only reinforce his mission. So, he carries on, single-handedly running the tours several times per month. Growing interest shows he’s already making strides. The first Meow Tours shelter trip had five participants. By their sixth trip, more than 50 people joined. This momentum is what he yearned for, he says.
With limited time, Abdel-Aty focuses his marketing efforts on locals, but “foreigners are most welcome.” Most tours attract at least one or two international travelers. And those who put the pyramids and Sphinx on hold to help Egypt’s strays leave with more than a few good ‘gram shots. They create one-of-a-kind memories with a group of like-minded local friends, while giving back on a grassroots level — one full-bellied dog at a time.
Go There: Meow Tours
- Location: Walking tours take place in and around greater Cairo. Shelter trips typically stop at two to three shelters; most shelters are over 30 minutes outside Cairo. Bus transport is available from downtown Cairo, which is definitely recommended, as Uber and cabs — not to mention cell service — are unreliable in these areas. Bus transport (about $5) requires an advanced reservation.
- Booking: You can reserve a spot on Facebook or via direct message on Instagram.
- Best time to go: Egypt’s high season runs from October through May, although Meow Tours offers trips all year.
- Pro Tip: If you’re visiting during Ramadan (April 23 – May 23, 2020), don’t miss “Meow Iftar.” At this event — a play on the traditional Iftar, the evening meal when Muslims end their day’s Ramadan fast — Meow Tours gave Cairo’s strays food and water so they could join in the celebration.