A stray kitten jumps from one bin to another, hunting for a meal. Underfed, dirty and alone, it runs away from people passing by, like most cats in the country. It’s one of thousands of stray animals in Jordan.
Margaret Ledger, founder of Jordan’s only hospital for domestic and working animals, says this is the result of backyard breeding.
“Anybody can become a breeder - we have seen kids, even [as young as] 13, 14; they breed animals and then they end up in pet shops,” Ledger says. “This needs licensing to put things in order, because this is one way of having overpopulation.”
“People do not really care for nor feed the animals on the streets in the cities. They are scared of them. They consider them as disease carriers for rabies or stuff like that,” she tells SBS.
Her hospital on the outskirts of Amman cares for more than 300 animals. It provides veterinary services for all Jordanian pets, ranging from donkeys to turtles, even when the owners can’t afford to pay for it.
“The ownership of dogs and cats in Jordan is growing more and more. Before it was a very small number,” Ledger says.
While designer dogs can be found in the homes of the more affluent, litters of stray kittens are being fed in family backyards. People are increasingly recognising the benefits of sharing their lives with animals.
But a lot of people will not adopt pets from shelters.
Educating children will help to raise a generation of animal-respecting Jordanians.
“The problem is that [the stray dogs] are not small dogs, and the majority of people here live in apartments,” says Judith Hamadeh, owner of Welcome Home Kennels near Madaba, south of Amman.
“Smaller dogs are popular and many people buy them from one street in downtown Amman. The issue is that people go there because they want cheap animals,” Hamadeh says.
It has more than 10 pet stores side by side. They all share one thing: the animals are confined in tiny cages, often sleeping and eating next to their faeces.
“Unfortunately a lot of animals in the downtown pet stores get very sick,” Hamadeh says.
This is the dark side of the pet industry.
Ledger believes effective laws can improve the lives of animals. “We helped a lot a couple of years ago, making really good laws for animals, and they’re not enforced. They’re on the shelf,” she says.
Judith and her partner Nabil advocate for education. “We feel we have to teach the kids while they’re young to respect the animals. It’s education rather than laws,” she says.
The Hamadehs and Ledger agree that educating children will help to raise a generation of animal-respecting Jordanians.
“There are people who don’t like dogs and they say the dogs are against their religion. But they misunderstand the religion,” Hamadeh says.
Ledger says the Quran advocates for animal rights but that the largely Islamic nation overlooks this.
“The stories in it – the articles about animals – it’s fantastic. Believe me, if we follow the words in the Quran about animals, I think our Earth will be heaven.”
Through the delivery of education, appropriate enforced laws and co-operation between the few veterinaries and animal rescues, the lives of animals can improve.
The author travelled to Jordan as part of The Foreign Correspondent Study Tour. Read more stories from this series: