Saving animals through 40 days & nights of war in Lebanon & Israel
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2006:
BEIRUT, HAIFA–Forty days of Israeli bombing in response to
Hezbollah militia rocket attacks from southern Lebanon devastated the
fragile Lebanese animal aid infrastructure along with everything else
caught in the crossfire.
“Noah’s Ark is needed for the animals of Lebanon,”
proclaimed Best Friends Animal Society cofounder Michael Mountain on
August 15, 2006, announcing a mass evacuation of shell-shocked dogs
rescued by Beruit for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
“The howls of the 133 canine refugees echoed through the
pine-and-oak-covered hills above the Lebanese capital, crowded into
cages but safely away from airstrikes,” reported Associated Press
writer Donna Abu-Nasr 30 days earlier. “The dogs were moved by
volunteers from a shelter in Beirut’s southern suburbs to an
abandoned pig farm 10 miles east of the capital,” near Monteverde,
“and might be considered lucky compared to pets left to fend for
themselves by foreign and Lebanese owners fleeing the Israeli
bombardment,” Abu-Nasr added.
“Working with BETA, we’ve looked into lots of options for
these dogs,” said Best Friends president Michael Mountain. “But
there is so much damage to the country that taking care of them
there, finding them new homes in the region, or moving them one at
a time to new situations is pretty much impossible. So we have
agreed to be the staging area for adoptions in the U.S.
“The plan is to fly all 150 dogs to the United States as soon
as possible,” Mountain said. “Most likely we’ll need to drive them
from Lebanon to Jordan and fly them from there. Yes, cat lovers,
there are cats, too,” Mountain added. “But they don’t yet have
health certificates, and there are some other issues to be sorted
out before we can start working on that.”
BETA had 113 dogs and 100 cats at small shelters in Beirut near
Hezbollah strongholds when the fighting erupted on July 12. During
the next month BETA took in 25 more dogs plus another 34 cats.
“Two of the dogs, named Thelma and Louise, were found
trapped in an apartment one week after their people were killed,”
summarized Mountain, from BETA updates. “One dog belonged to a
Saudi family who were in Beirut on vacation when the war broke out.
They left, gave the dog to the doorman of the building where they
were staying, and the doorman put the dog out on the street.”
“They’re innocent. They don’t know what’s happening to them.
They can’t run away from the bombs,” BETA cofounder Helena Hesayne
told ABC News.
More than a million people reportedly fled the rocket attacks
in northern Israel and the bombing in southern Lebanon. While many
left pets behind, BETA evacuated the dogs and cats in their care in
repeated convoys of three cars and a mini-van.
“Thank God we rescued these dogs from South Beirut before
they leveled the place,” said shelter volunteer Mona Khoury.
“A missile fell one night 400 meters from the shelter. We
found shrapnel inside the cages,” added fellow volunteer Joelle El
“We kept saying, ‘Please don’t bomb us,'” volunteer
Marguerite Sharawi said.
“The new dog shelter is at a pig farm, which was donated by
a kind man. Needless to say, this space is in dire need of
construction works. The place is therefore both a dog shelter and a
construction site,” explained BETA cofounder Joelle Kanaan. “For
every incoming dog, a new cage must be built, and this requires a
lot of construction material, in other words a lot of money.
“The animals in Lebanon need a lot of help,” Kanaan
continued, “but the only thing that can reach us for the moment is
money. The country has been isolated from the rest of the world,
and not in any possible way can goods or products reach us, although
we need a lot. The supplies available in Lebanon are becoming
scarce, and we’re trying–as much as our finances permit–to
stockpile food for cats and dogs, and medicines, for a long period.”
“BETA is in the process of finding a new space to put the
cats,” Kanaan added. “We were always against overcrowding, and we
To avoid overcrowding, veterinarian and BETA president Ali
Hamadeh advised people who called in search of a place to leave their
animals to call boarding kennels.
“Some owners asked me to meet them as they headed to their
ships,” boarding kennel operator Hani Rayess told Abu-Nasr of
Associated Press. “A couple of Westerners told me they would not
leave Lebanon because they had nowhere to place their pets.”
Hani Rayess said he took in about 45 dogs, charging their
owners $100 a month.
The Humane Society of the U.S., World Society for the
Protection of Animals, Kinship Circle, and South African National
SPCA, among others, pleaded with governments who were evacuating
their citizens from Lebanon to allow refugees to take their pets with
them–to no avail.
“In south Lebanon, war is taking a toll on animals who did
not escape with their masters. The carcasses of cats, dogs, goats,
and sheep litter the roads, mowed down by fleeing villagers
careening out of the hills in packed automobiles,” Agence France
Presse correspondent Jailan Zayan observed on August 8.
“In the village of Srifa, a Hezbollah stronghold that
endured Israeli bombardment, a donkey with his front leg snared in a
tangle of toppled fencing brayed desperately. Horses ambled down the
main street. A stray cow foraged in the kitchen of an abandoned
Hezbollah fighters’ attitudes toward the animals varied, Zayan reported.
“Americans care more about their animals than they do
humans,” a 40-year-old field commander named Haj Rabia Abou Hussein
But a Hezbollah soldier who identified himself only as Hussein said,
“”I saw a dog. His tongue was hanging from hunger and thirst. I
gave him my last can of tuna. If I showed mercy on the dog, maybe
God will show mercy on me.”
A mirroring crisis developed in northern Israel.
“More than 8,000 dogs and cats have been abandoned in the
north by owners who fled south,” said Eli Ashkenazi of Haaretz.
“Numerous dogs are roaming the streets in the Galilee, and
many cats have been left with no food or water,” Yesod Hama’ala
veterinarian Gil Shavit told Ashkenazi.
“Thousands of dogs have been abandoned. The cats have lost
their food supply and simply die,” rescuer Gaya Goldberg said. “The
dogs are helpless. They can’t even jump onto the garbage containers.
We try to collect them and bring them to pounds, but the pounds are
The rescue organization Ahava took in 200 additional dogs and
cats during the first two weeks of the fighting, Ahava general
manager Tamara More told Abu-Nasr of Associated Press.
More tried to reach across the border to help, to no avail.
“A non-profit group comprised of some 50 volunteers, Jews
and Arabs alike, Ahava secured a ship in the hope of sailing Lebanese
strays to safety,” wrote Toronto Star Jerusalem correspondent Mitch
“We have the boat, we have permission from the Israeli navy,
we have the contacts with animal lovers in Lebanon,” More said.
“What we don’t have yet is co-operation from foreign embassies and
aid groups to let people know we are ready to help.”
“Ahava volunteers were in contact with their Lebanese
counterparts about the latter-day Noah’s Ark mission,” Potter wrote,
“until all direct phone links between Israel and Lebanon ceased.”
“Every day we dispatch a rescue team to the north to gather
up abandoned dogs, cats and other animals that have been abandoned
and bring them back to the safety in the center of the country,” Let
the Animals Live founder Eli Altman e-mailed.
“Let the Animals Live is also taking animals from the
shelters of the northern animal organizations and municipal dog
pounds,” Altman said. “The animals are brought to private boarding
facilities where Let the Animals Live is funding their accommodation
and veterinary evaluation and care.
“In addition,” Altman said, “we are sending teams to
distribute food and water for feral cats and other animals in the now
almost empty settlements throughout the north. We have teams working
to locate the families of the abandoned animals and make arrangements
for reunions, as well as finding new homes for the rest.”
Delphine Matthieussent of Associated Press described “Julia
Meiler, a volunteer with Hakol Chai, putting a water container on a
street corner in the northern Israeli town of Maalot while the sound
of explosions in nearby Lebanon rang out. As Meiler stepped back, a
few cats cautiously approached the water. Within minutes the street
corner turned into a mewing gathering of a dozen cats. Many animals
let Meiler pet them, a sign they were not strays but had been
abandoned or fled their homes following a rocket attack, she said.
“A few blocks away,” Matthieussent continued, “a small dog
with long gray hair hid behind a bench. Hakol Chai volunteers
eventually coaxed him out of his retreat, and he was soon eating the
pet food they brought.
“When they find themselves near rocket hits, dogs can get
hysterical and run aimlessly for miles,” Nahairiva veterinarian
Zafrir Volansky told Matthieussent. “Cats tend to find a shelter in
a dark and closed place and stay there, sometimes for days.”
“Stray animals depend on food found in trash containers and
water dripping from air conditioning,” said Hakol Chai volunteer Noam
Vardi. “When more than half of the residents are gone, strays
“We have been asked to evacuate horses and sheep, provide
food for municipal pounds, food for sheep, and more,” said Concern
for Helping Animals in Israel founder Nina Natelson. “We’ve also
been asked to set up a temporary shelter for lots of puppies, and
will likely do that. Our phones are absolutely flooded with calls
from people asking us to rescue their animals, and from volunteers
wanting to help. “
CHAI, based in Washington D.C., partners with Hakol Chai.
Their joint relief effort began on July 27, when Hakol Chai
volunteers “rushed 4 tons of food and hundreds of plastic water
containers to the northern Israeli settlement of Nes Amim, near
Nahariya, where volunteers immediately began the process of
distributing it to animals in need,” Natelson e-mailed.
“At midnight, the delivery van was met by the coordinator
for volunteers in the north. While rockets exploded in the
background, local Dutch and German residents helped unload bag after
bag of food and begin distribution. Afterward, Hakol Chai’s rescue
team quickly moved on to Akko, responding to a report of animals
abandoned in cages behind a house. As they went, they saw dogs and
cats desperate for food and water everywhere.
“Entering the yard in search of the animals,” Natelson
continued, “the team was soon joined by police, alerted by
neighbors alarmed by the sounds in the night. As soon as the police
took stock of the situation, they joined Hakol Chai’s efforts.
Three dogs, eight puppies, pigeons and rabbits in small cages, 20
chickens, parrots, and many cats were abandoned. All were fed,
watered, and transported to foster homes. The team worked until 3
a.m. Then the noise of the explosions grew louder, and they were
forced to head south.”
The Hakol Chai team observed animal casualties. “Three dogs
were killed when a bomb hit a house in Kiryat Shmona,” where they
were left tied by evacuees,” Natelson said.
The team also saw two dogs who were killed in the streets,
and rescued a dog who was wounded by shrapnel from a rocket that flew
into the doghouse where he was chained.