Rescuing Pets in the Aftermath of the Beirut Blasts

Wednesday, September 9, 2020
Opinion By Jean AbiNader

I have friends who are rather generous in their posting of beasts of all sizes on Facebook, both entertaining and really cute, but I try to avoid paying attention to them except when it’s Watson or Jack, our family canines, neither of whom live with me – I might feel differently if they did. Among the stories that are streaming from Lebanon are several about organizations working to reunite pets and their owners and caring for those who have been abandoned. The Lebanese greet each rescue and reunion as a sign of hope, giving us stories that reject the notion that all is lost.

My friend Ken Close wrote to tell me about Animals Lebanon, featured in many of the stories, which is sponsored by a US non-profit, The Last Animals Foundation. It is an organization founded, run, and managed by women with over 200 volunteers searching through rubble and destruction to find lost animals whose owners have registered their pets’ pictures and descriptions online. Together they launched a GoFundMe campaign complete with a poignant video to bring attention to their work and some of their early successes.

Animals Lebanon works to change legislation and the culture of animal welfare in Lebanon. The group also rescues trafficked and abused endangered animals from all over the Middle East and resettles them abroad. It has received a donation of 74 acres of land in the mountains east of Beirut on which to build a large-scale rescue and recovery center for animals of all sizes and an educational center to continue their work changing the culture around caring for animals.

According to Ken, these new facilities will allow them to have the space and proper resources to give the animals they rescue time to recover until they are well enough to be resettled elsewhere in the world. The specialized infrastructure has already been designed on a pro-bono basis by architects in Europe who have experience designing animal sanctuaries.

It is intriguing that in the midst of the reporting on the catastrophe in Beirut, major news organizations such as BBC, AP, CBS, and CNN featured stories on Animals Lebanon and Lebanon BETA and their efforts. The BBC segment tells the story of two dogs separated from their owner who used the recovery network set up by volunteers to reclaim her pets, even though one was 50 miles away, picked up by someone who found the injured pet on his way back to Tripoli.

CNN focused on the initial impact of the blasts and how Animals Lebanon mobilized to pull together volunteers from all over the country to engage in the rescue effort. According to Jason Bier, the executive director, they search for animals trapped in the rubble, tend to the injured, and care for those whose owners died. With 300,000 homeless, it is a great challenge to both find the owners and resettle pets in new locations.

One of the first stories to cover the rescue efforts was posted by The 961, a very helpful site that early on captured the challenges of working in the wreckage to find survivors. It noted that “In the chaos of the blast, too many animals and family pets went missing; close to a thousand as reported by activists.”

AP reported that “Animals Lebanon Teams go out at night and early mornings to search for the pets, before the streets become too crowded with people going through what remains of their homes or noisy bulldozers and forklifts trying to clear the rubble. The noise and the commotion keep the animals in hiding. Kamal Khatib, a volunteer, said that “We had a few cases where we would rescue a cat and then the building would collapse. Since the day of the explosion, we have maybe climbed more than 300 floors going up and down, looking, looking into elevator shafts, looking under cars, looking amid in the rubble.”

In a segment that was shown in many stations in the US, CBS updated earlier reporting on Animals Lebanon, saying that it had received 540 requests for help and 331 people have volunteered in search, rescue, and care efforts. It also noted Animals Lebanon’s extensive use of social media including Facebook and Instagram to issue reports. So far, the organization said it has provided veterinary care to 216 animals. It said it was able to reunite 110 lost animals with their owners, and that 61 animals are in need of adoption.

Thanks to Animals Lebanon and other generous groups, there is a bit of good news is all that is awful about the aftermath in Beirut. Again, its GoFundMe site is here.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force for Lebanon.