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From gods to garbage dwellers

The steady demise of Cairo’s cats and what one group is doing to save them.

Deification of cats fell out of favor towards the end of the first century B.C. And today, cats are met with ignorance — even disdain.

It's a far cry from the mau's glory days when, according to Fahmy, it was "valued, it was drawn, it was mummified.” Today, “cats that you find in Egypt have a lot of problems like accidents; car accidents; mass killing, like you say, by poisoning; and we also have a problem with the health problems.”

Fahmy, a veterinarian, and a few other activists founded EMRO in 2006 as a shelter for cats. Dozens of cat breeds prowl Cairo’s streets, but EMRO adopts only mau cats, as part of an effort to revive the breed’s storied history.

The shelter houses about 40 maus at any one time, each of which it tries to place in a home. A map in the lobby of the shelter shows the organization’s global reach, having placed cats as far afield as California.

The mau’s rarity and distinctive look, Fahmy says, has made it easy for EMRO to find homes for the cats. 

While EMRO does receive funds from donors, it started a veterinary clinic last year, using the proceeds to pay the staff, maintain the building and perpetuate efforts to place maus in homes.

Cat food manufacturer Purina has sponsored EMRO, sending the organization free shipments of food and supplies.

Still, cats in Cairo today don’t receive the respect afforded to them in prior millennia. Fahmy said he hopes EMRO will succeed at least in sowing some of the seeds for change in the community.

The will for change is there, he said. Now it’s a matter of education.

“When you start to explain for the Egyptians the history of the cats, they want to know more about the mau cats,” Fahmy said.

Mau cats may never again enjoy the heady days of the pharaohs, but they may, Fahmy said, get a little more respect.

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