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More dogs, cats being abandoned as Lebanon’s crises take toll on man’s best friends

Published: Updated:

This month, the municipality of the village of Edde, located 45 km north of Beirut, sent a broadcast message to its residents, telling them that two huskies wearing a collar were found on the street.

“The owner of these dogs are kindly requested to reach out to us to claim them and bring them home,” the message, which was shared alongside a picture of the huskies, read.

Such posts have become common in Lebanon. More dogs and cats are being abandoned as people struggle with financial pressures, limited purchasing power and hyperinflation.

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According to Beirut for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (BETA), one of the main animal shelters in Lebanon, the country’s economic crisis has driven many people to give up their pets.

“Today more than ever, the Lebanese are choosing to dump their canine companions, and this choice is influenced by several factors,” Sevine Fakhoury, BETA board member and PR officer, told Al Arabiya English. “As the country’s situation continues to worsen, locals are emigrating, leaving behind their animals either because some countries impose strict pet import rules or because they simply think that kitties and puppies are disposable.”

“Animals are also being surrendered due to the inability of the owners to afford care,” Fakhoury explained. “Animals’ food is getting too expensive. The same applies to the vaccines and regular health screenings.”

Lebanon is grappling with its most severe economic crisis in modern history. The lira has lost more than 90 percent of its value due to the liquidity crisis that consumed the banking sector.

The majority of the population is unable to secure sufficient food and basic services as prices have steadily increased since October 2019.

Tied to a pole with her food in Ramlet el Bayda area (Image: Vanessa Ghanem)
Tied to a pole with her food in Ramlet el Bayda area (Image: Vanessa Ghanem)

These financial circumstances do not justify the behavior of some owners who dump cats and dogs on the street, animal rights activist and advocate Ghina Nahfawi said.

“Surrendering a pet is wrong. Would you surrender your children if you can no longer buy them food? It’s the same responsibility here,” she noted.

She also mentioned that there were a number of communities and initiatives on social media offering donations to serious guardians who were unable to buy food and medication for their companions.

“In extreme cases,” she added, “the owners should look for adopters instead of tying their pets to trees in the middle of the forest or on the side of the road,” stressing that domestic animals are largely dependent on human care for their survival and well-being.

Dog found on the streets of Bhamdoun, Lebanon on July 5th, 2021. (BETA)
Dog found on the streets of Bhamdoun, Lebanon on July 5th, 2021. (BETA)

Is culling the answer?

Activists and nonprofits see animal treatment often leading to slow deaths.

“Municipalities are not assuming their roles when it comes to protecting stray canines and cats. They are not implementing the Trap-Neuter-Return program either, although this falls under their responsibility as local authorities,” Nahfawi pointed out.

A TNR program serves to reduce cat and dog populations over time by eliminating their ability to reproduce. It also stems the spread of disease by vaccinating them for rabies and distemper before they’re released.

TNR policy advocates believe that this is the most humane and effective method for stabilizing and eventually reducing outdoor cat and dog populations.

Nahfawi accused the authorities of lack of action.

“In several instances, the government acted reactively when the disaster had been already consummated.”

Similarly, Fakhoury noted that laws should be enforced and reinforced by specific decrees to be able to protect animals.

“The maltreatment and abuse of animals exist and should be punished. When abusers are penalized, they will think twice before committing another act of cruelty towards these creatures.”

In this context, sources from the Internal Security Forces confirmed to Al Arabiya English that the ISF is taking the necessary measures against individuals who inflict suffering or harm upon any animal. They cannot, however, arrest those who surrender their pets as this does not break the law, the sources said.

“We constantly coordinate with NGOs and activists and ensure proven breaches are adequately dealt with in a timely manner. As for abandoned pets, these must be looked after by municipalities,” the sources added.

How can owners keep their pets while limiting the expenses?

While many Lebanese abandon their companions, the Makhloufs refuse to give up their cat, Leo, saying that despite all the challenges and financial burden, they will not let Leo go because he is part of the family too. (Image: Vanessa Ghanem)
While many Lebanese abandon their companions, the Makhloufs refuse to give up their cat, Leo, saying that despite all the challenges and financial burden, they will not let Leo go because he is part of the family too. (Image: Vanessa Ghanem)

Michel Salameh, MD, head of Animalife Veterinary Hospital, agrees that raising a pet is costly. It is specifically expensive in Lebanon, where like almost anything else, animals’ feed, supplies and medication are imported, and hence, must be paid in fresh dollars or according to the parallel market rate.

“It is becoming harder for people, particularly those who earn their salaries in Lebanese pound, to foster a pet,” Salameh said.

Perla and Simon Makhlouf, owners of a cat, said that a routine check-up at a standard hospital, which used to cost around 100,000 Lebanese Lira ($66), now costs nearly 450,000 lira ($299), including vaccination updates. They noted that the cost would be even more if the cat was sick.

Commenting on this, Salameh advised guardians not to resort to cheap food as they will eventually pay more.

“Inadequate food can cause urinary infections, skin problems, scratching, itching, among other issues. Medicines and tests are way more expensive than food. So, in order to limit the expenses, we try and promote preventive medicine as well as advise our clients to improve their know-how.”

Shelters in Lebanon are nearing capacity. And while the country’s countless crises obligated many Lebanese to dump their companions, the Makhloufs refuse to give up their cat, Leo.

The married couple had to leave the country, seeking better living conditions. They couldn’t, however, relocate Leo immediately due to the extremely high cost, excessive amount of paperwork, and complex procedure. As they prepare for the relocation process, they hired cat sitters to tend the 7-year-old Himalayan while he’s still in Lebanon. He will soon move to live with Perla’s parents, although it was not easy to convince them.

“Despite all the challenges and financial burden, we will not let Leo go; he is family,” Perla emphasized.

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