Stray cats, like the one that invaded Vinicius Júnior’s press conference, are common on street corners in Doha. Dogs, on the other hand, practically do not exist. And that might have a reason. Animal rights activists heard by UOL claim that the Qatari government promoted and allowed the slaughter of thousands of stray dogs in the months leading up to the World Cup.
Non-governmental organizations and veterinarians operating in the country sent reports and photos of animals killed and injured by gunshots or stabbings in Doha and neighboring cities. They say they report the cases to the police, but little or nothing is done to investigate the perpetrators.
The organizations also accuse the Qatari public administration of collecting thousands of stray dogs to remove them from the streets of Doha, taking them to an unknown place. In fact, in 19 days in the country, journalists from UOL they found only a handful of dogs walking with their owners, but no unattended strays.
In Qatar, as in many countries with an Islamic culture, the majority of the population does not consider dogs as pets and believes that they are dangerous and can transmit diseases. More orthodox currents of Islam teach that dogs are “impure” animals and unsuitable for living with humans.
One of the most repercussions in the country happened in July of this year, when a group of four armed men invaded a piece of land and shot 29 dogs, including puppies, to death. Three others were injured, including two pregnant dogs. The slaughter would have happened because one of the dogs would have bitten one of the shooters. The report received a video that shows a dying dog after supposedly being hit by gunfire last week, in an attack that would have left three animals dead and injured.
The report sought out the Supreme Committee, the arm of the government that organizes the World Cup, to ask about the complaints made by the activists. The agency reported a direct contact email with the Qatari government, to which the report sent questions, so far unanswered.
In October, the NGO Paws Rescue Qatar reported the case of a female dog named Milady, found with remains of bullets lodged in her body. “How many dogs will be shot before someone takes this seriously?” the NGO wrote on Instagram. Other images were sent showing amputated dogs and x-rays proving the presence of bullets in the animals’ bodies.
For years organizations have treated stray dogs, vaccinated, neutered, inserted a microchip and made them available for adoption. They say, however, that the government has been collecting these animals and taking them to a property in the interior of the country. In one of the photos sent to the report, the removal of a dog is carried out by a car from the company Al Mukhtar, specialized in pest control.
The government prevents activists from visiting this space and monitoring its conditions. “We estimate that around 5,000 dogs have been taken in so far, but they don’t have the capacity to house that many animals. I asked for several photos of this shelter, but they won’t even let me see a photo,” said Noora Al-Thani, from the Qatar group. Animal Rescues. “Once collected, most are never seen or heard from again,” she said. Since last November, the number of dogs in shelters has been drastically reduced.
Asians are more distant from dogs than Westerners
The activists’ suspicion is that the animals are left to die in the desert or that they are shot. But the allegations of the killing of dogs do not come as a shock to the majority of the Qatari population because of the emotional distance between the two species in countries with Arab and Muslim cultures.
Historian Alan Mikhail, from Yale University, in the United States, says that dogs were seen as a useful tool in medieval Arab cities because they ate garbage and made the streets cleaner. But in the 19th century, plague, cholera and malaria epidemics led the population to associate diseases with garbage and, consequently, with the animals that ate it.
Although the Quran does not prohibit human beings from having contact with dogs, they are still seen as unclean animals by many believers. “The relationship between Qataris and dogs is like this because of religion,” says Brazilian veterinarian Luciana Petry, who has been working since last year at a clinic in Doha. “If a Muslim touches a dog, he needs to wash his hands seven times before praying. Arabs and Asians in general are very afraid. When I walk my dogs in the street, people pass by them jumping.”
Noora Al-Thani of Qatar Animal Rescues says the number of dogs taken in by the government is increasing, but the number of animals they say they have in custody has dwindled. “When we ask what happened to them, we get no answer. They tell us the government shelter is a ‘confidential’ place and won’t let us visit it on our own. They treat the animal shelters as if they were a prison of maximum security.”
The animals also faced the fury of part of the population, who believe in false news that circulate on social networks calling stray dogs “vague and cruel, who kill wild animals and attack children”. Activists say these posts prompt more residents to report the stray dogs to the government or even kill them.
Cats situation is better, but not much