Stray dogs roam in almost every Cairo neighborhood — lurking in construction sites, scavenging through trash and howling nightly atop parked cars.
The government says there are around 15 million. They bite around 200,000 people a year, according to the World Health Organization, and spread rabies, one of the world’s most lethal diseases.
In addition, dogs are not positively viewed in the Islamic religion.
Yet after centuries of stigma, the street dogs of Egypt are finding popular acceptance, and along with it, surging grassroots support.
That includes adoption and medical care, as well as spaying and neutering to keep them from producing more puppies on the streets.
Volunteers armed with giant fishing nets and tranquilizer darts embark on regular missions to catch, vaccinate and sterilize dogs before letting them loose.
These efforts are making inroads against the prevailing government policy of extermination by poison.
Egypt’s upper and middle classes have increasingly adopted Western-inspired ideas of dog ownership.
Pet hotels, cafes and grooming emporiums are sprouting up in major Egyptian cities.
The General Organization for Veterinary Services, an arm of the agricultural ministry, routinely sends authorities to kill strays by scattering poison in streets overnight, according to a dozen activists and residents.
“It’s a horrible way to die,” said Mohamed Shehata, founder of Egyptian Vets for Animal Care, or EVAC. It’s the country’s first spay and neuter program, also based in Maadi.
The government organization did not respond to questions about its policy. But in a recent report, it described street dogs as a “time bomb that threatens our children,” and defended the “merciful killing of dogs that are harmful to people,” citing Islamic law.