SBS Arabic24

"Dogged by fear": How some new migrants must overcome innate fear of household pets

SBS Arabic24

Eman Mostafa and her daughter

Eman Mustafa never imagined having a cat at home because of her extreme fear of pets. Source: Supplied by Eman Mostafa

Published 2 June 2022 at 12:27pm
By Dina Abdel-Mageed
Source: SBS

Some migrants, especially from the Middle East, have grown up with a fear of cats and dogs as these animals are often stray and aggressive in their home countries.

Published 2 June 2022 at 12:27pm
By Dina Abdel-Mageed
Source: SBS

After arriving in Australia, Eman Mostafa went with her husband and daughter on her first visit to her brother-in-law's house, but after arriving, she suddenly refused to get out of the car.

"As soon as he opened the door, their dog came out running to welcome the guests and when I saw him, I was so scared I didn't get out of the car until they locked him up in the back yard,” she said.

Ms Mostafa’s experience with pets in her hometown, Cairo, was largely shaped by stray dogs and cats, which was not positive at all.

Because of the harm the dogs were subjected to, they behaved aggressively in order to defend themselves and this in return made me feel the need to defend myself.
She said that cultural and religious factors made people in her native Egypt less willing to own pets and less knowledgeable about how to deal with them.

“Some people refuse to keep dogs at home for religious reasons. Houses also have less space and often do not have a back yard that allows the pet to move around,” Ms Mostafa said.

She told SBS Arabic24 how she took the first steps to overcome her fear of animals with her own daughter, Jana.

“Her father made sure she felt confident around animals from a young age, and this gave her the courage,” she said. 

Mohamed Mogahed's cat
اعتبر أن تبني القطة سيكون حلا وسطا مناسبا بين ما يريده أطفاله وبين ما يراه متوافقا مع معتقداته. Source: Supplied by Mohamed Mogahed

She would take my hand and take me close to dogs, reassure me and tell me: ‘Come close, don't be afraid, I’m with you.’”

According to a 2019 by Animal Medicines Australia, nearly two-thirds of Australian households have pets and 90 per cent of them have owned a pet at some point.

If those results are extrapolated to all Australian households, this means that there are more pets in Australia than there are people with nearly 29 million pets in the country today which is more than the estimated population of 25 million.

Ms Mostafa said one of the reasons she felt the need to know more about pets was that they had become a part of her daily routine and social interactions.

“I'd meet neighbours on the street taking their dogs for a walk and see my kids patting dogs in parks,” she said.

She said she felt that she should learn more about pets and work on becoming more daring in dealing with them.

One day, I was watching my kids playing with the neighbour’s dog in the park and I decided to overcome my fear and buy a pet.
After doing some research, she said she decided that caring for dogs would be stressful and required more time and dedication, so adopted a cat instead.

Mohamed Megahed says that his children also pushed him into adopting a pet.

“I was dismissive of the idea at first, but my children kept on nagging,” Mr Megahed said.

One day, a friend called and told him he had kittens for adoption and asked if he would like to take one.

Dogs are Australia’s favourite pets, and there are just over five million of them in Australia, according to a survey conducted by .

But Mr Megahed said that he did not want a dog in the house for “religious reasons”, so he thought adopting a cat would be an appropriate compromise between what his children wanted and what he saw as compatible with his beliefs.

indicate that women and families with children represent the majority of pet owners.  

Statistics show that nearly two-thirds of households without a pet would like one but are unable due to rules imposed by landlords or landlords' associations or concerns about liability and cost.

Mr Megahed says: “I see cats that are sold for huge amounts of money, but I found that I could get one without a financial cost and that this would make my children happy, so I took the step.”

He explained how life and education here in Australia made children more connected to nature and animals.

Mr Megahed, who described himself as a middle-class man, said that while growing up, neither his family nor any of their friends had pets.

“My children know the names of all pets and how to take care of them. I have not been able to handle pets closely and I do not have the time now to learn more about this,” Mr Megahed said.

Ms Mostafa said she recalled some popular sayings about animals in Egypt.

“They always say cats are sneaky,” she said.

But she said her experience of owning a cat here in Australia had changed her perception of pets.

Cats are very gentle and lovely animals.
She said she also remembered how some misconceptions she had made her afraid of animals.

“They would tell me that dogs could smell adrenaline and they could sense my fear and might attack me because of it,” she said.

At first, she said she had been afraid of the family’s new pet cat and did not want to be near her, but with time, she had become the cat’s most favourite person in the house.

“She comes to me especially now and sleeps on my legs,” she said.

“I can’t believe that I can now pat her and hug her. It's like I'm someone else!"

Mr Megahed's children were now happy that they had finally succeeded in convincing him to raise a pet, he said.

But he said that even though they were keeping the cat indoors, he did not want to get too attached to it.

“I don't like to overdo it and don’t consider the pet part of the family as some do,” he said.