A Dog’s Life in Tunisia

Campaigns to end the cruel practice of shooting stray animals by municipalities in Tunisia are struggling in the face of a weak government and a downwardly spiralling economy.

Dogs have a troubled life in Tunisia. While in some neighbourhoods pet ownership has become more popular, as evidenced by the proliferation of new pet stores, these areas give an illusion that Tunisia is generally a dog-loving society. In reality, there is a much darker side of life for dogs in this country, where pedigree pooches are stolen for resale on the black market or females are made to breed puppies for profit, yet it is the native breeds that suffer the worst treatment.

Local dog breeds, known as “Arabi” or the Aidi de Berger, which is native to the Atlas Mountains of North Africa, are reviled, rather than celebrated, as the national breeds. They make up the majority of street dogs and popular attitudes towards street dogs often range between fear or aggression. 
Social and economic pressures are turning into an increase in general violence and,  sadly, stray dogs are often victims of teenagers’ angst and young men’s over-boiling anger. It’s not uncommon to see injured dogs in public or witness dogs with cut ears – this is increasingly being done by young boys emulating the “big cool guys” who cut dogs’ ears to prepare them for dog fights. Stray cats are not treated any better, often suffering a similar fate.

Even though the incidence of state-approved animals shootings has dropped, this inhumane practice continues. Municipal police officers are often bad-shooters and leaving dogs injured and left to bleed to death in the streets.
This is where a small and over-taxed army of animal rescuers swing into action to save injured and mutilated animals and take them off the streets. They are brought to veterinarians who work through nights to save these dogs’ lives. Dog rescue sanctuaries, such as “Street Haven” in Cap Bon and “Doggie Den” in Hammamet, are full of saved dogs and these havens are struggling for support as the global economy raises food and energy prices and reduces spending power. 

According to some, there is also a moral obligation toward animals, whether they be strays or sheltered. For instance, the owner of the “Street Haven” sanctuary argues that animal cruelty is absolutely contradictory to Islam and its teachings. Indeed, Surahs in the Koran praise dogs for their roles as guardians of the home and helping people hunt food. The prophet was the original cat dad. He loved his cat, named Muezza, so much that, when he heard the call to prayer, he cut off the sleeve of his coat rather than disturb her.  
Regardless of such moral obligations, this does not stop confusion over key issues, such as the sterilisation of animals to reduce the population and a divide between Imams who say it is or is not haram to do so. It is very common practice for people to simply dump litters of kittens or unwanted cats next to street markets or poison a no longer wanted pet.
In essence, the country is divided over loving and hating animals. A culture of fear and active hatred of animals pervades, with some mothers teaching children to be scared of them. 

However many young people are true animal lovers and have even become enthusiastic animal rights campaigners. Changing attitudes has created a generation of talented passionate veterinarians who want to see a national humane campaign for the control of stray animals and improved care for all animals, whether they live on Tunisian streets or in Tunisian homes.