At times, it is difficult and challenging to live in a foreign country because you realise that your sentiments and views are not shared by the wider population. I am referring here in particular to animal welfare or should I say lack of animal welfare. It is plain to see that animals here do not share the same amount of welfare and rights as they would in other countries. It is interesting to observe that the population on the whole do not appear to have a sentimental, caring, anthropomorphic view of animals. Animals are viewed either as a food source, such as beef cattle, sheep, lambs, goats, chickens, ducks and geese or as working animals such as, horses, mules and donkeys or as pests such as dogs and cats or as wild animals to be sold for profit such as tortoises and chameleons. Whilst there are of course some people in the population who are very dedicated and care a great deal about animals they are sadly in the minority.
There are many veterinarians but they are trying to run businesses and cannot take the role of animal welfare providers by giving free veterinary help and assistance to all the stray and feral animals they come across. As far as animal welfare organisations go, to my knowledge, there is only one in Tunis called the Society for the Protection of Animals (SPA) and they mainly deal with capturing, neutering and releasing stray and feral cats and dogs.
In 2005, a joint group of us made up of Tunisians and expatriates came together to try and form a registered animal welfare charity in Tunis. We enlisted the help of many veterinarians to try and get their view points as to how best the situation of animal welfare could be tackled, how stray and feral animals could be captured, neutered and released, how the general population especially the young could be educated about caring for animals and not being cruel towards animals, how we could set up animal shelters and try to encourage adoption of animals and how we could generate publicity and secure funding through on-going fundraising activities and try to secure sponsorship deals with companies who manufactured and sold fodder to livestock as well as from multinational companies which sold tinned cat and dog food.
Unfotunately, although we persevered for almost three years, we were unsuccessful in trying to establish a registered animal welfare charity in Tunis. Perhaps our plans were too ambitious and we certainly underestimated the amount of red-tape and bureaucracy that we would have to deal with under the previous government. Perhaps in a year or two, when the dust has settled following the Jasmine Revolution of the 14th January 2011 and when a new democratically elected government has been in power for a little while, another joint group made up of Tunisians and expatriates may attempt to reignite the animal welfare debate. Until such a time, those of us who live here will have to endure sights such as these, a box full of abandoned kittens left outside a fishmonger's shop and tortoises taken from their natural habitat only to be sold in municipal markets.