Why are pets in Lebanon being deserted by their owners?

During prolonged bouts of conflict, pets are often left behind [Getty Images]
5 min read
11 June, 2021
One group uniquely burdening the toll of Lebanon's issues are animals. Often left behind by their owners as they seek safe refuge, the once sheltered pets are roaming the streets unaccounted for. Now, concerned NGOs fear the results.

Due to the combined impact of the economic crisis, the absence of the government, the Covid-19 pandemic and the explosion that happened in Beirut in August 2020, pet owners are struggling more and more to afford to keep their pets while rescue organisations in Lebanon are facing a steep increase of pets being abandoned.

Animals Lebanon – one of the main animals' shelters and NGOs in Lebanon – really felt the effect of the problems just after the explosion.

“Like pet owners not being able to access their money, ours is still trapped in the bank, and our donors are not able to give to us anymore,” Animals Lebanon’s Executive Director Jason Mier told The New Arab. “With the increase of prices, we can barely afford food, and since the explosion, shipping has been affected. We can’t find certain medicine and basic supply like cages and pets carriers.”

The Lebanese currency crisis - that led to the devaluation of the Lebanese pound - has reached such an extent that a 10 kilos bag of cat food from the brand Royal Canin now costs 772,000 LL, which is more than the minimum monthly wage of 700,000 LL

At the same time, they are facing a massive request for support from pet owners who can’t afford to take care of them. “We are trying to prevent owners from abandoning their animals by providing support, but we’re just delaying the problem. It’s not sustainable and we’re not able to reach all of them or help them in the long term,” Mier added.

The Lebanese currency crisis – that led to the devaluation of the Lebanese pound – has reached such an extent that a 10 kilos bag of cat food from the brand Royal Canin now costs 772,000 LL, which is more than the minimum monthly wage of 700,000 LL, or around 60 US dollars.

“People from the middle class are really struggling to put food on the table, so we do what we can in order to limit the number of pets we’ll have to take care of eventually because people just leave them in the streets or in front of the shelters,” Mier added.

Since the beginning of the year, Animals Lebanon has received and acted upon 1,562 requests for help on their support line, not counting people who find alternative ways to be in touch with them.

After the explosion that broke everything in their house and months after their father was fired due to the economical crisis, Reve, 19, and her sister Eve, 16, asked Animals Lebanon to give them food for their cat, two-year-old Prince, in Beirut.

“They could give us a bit and our uncle in Abu Dhabi manages to bring back cat food sometimes, but he can’t come all the time,” Reve told The New Arab. “We don’t want to throw our cat out like a lot of people do, he’s our family, we’re looking for a solution to give him human food for now.”

Eve also told The New Arab that “even before the crisis, we weren’t financially comfortable, but we were managing to save a bit every day for Prince."

"Now, we honestly don’t know what to do for Prince, it’s very scary,” she added.

BETA NGO, which runs a big shelter close to Beirut, saw a big increase of pets, especially dogs, being abandoned, some of them tied up to the shelter in the middle of the forest.

“We now have around 850 dogs and more than 200 cats, it’s way too much,” BETA’s Vice President Helena Hesayne told The New Arab. “We can’t help more than this, all we can do now is explain to the owners how to feed their animal with human food.”

We don’t see some pets and their owners in the clinic anymore because those people can’t afford to take them or because they have abandoned their pet

Hesayne said it’s not just the lack of means that pushes people to abandon their pet, as many find a solution to leave the country and don’t take it with them. “They don’t want to bother with this [the administrative and veterinary work to leave the country with your pet], but they have the money to leave,” she said. “So many dogs are being dumped this way, it’s so sad! I think it’s just that many people don’t consider them as a member of the family.”

BETA themselves have financial issues because of the crisis. With only two to three weeks left of food supply to feed their big shelter, the team is trying to find further funding. “We try to stay positive but it’s hard, hopefully, we’ll see the end of the tunnel soon,” Hesayne hopes.

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For Dr Ali Hemade, a vet at the Pet Care clinic in Beirut, there are also silver linings to take from this crisis. “There are two parts to the situation,” Dr Hemade said. “On one hand, we don’t see some pets and their owners in the clinic anymore because those people can’t afford to take them or because they have abandoned their pet. We see those pets again coming with shelters, or with new owners. But on the other hand, because of Covid and the restrictions, many people really connected with their pets. They take care of them even more because they spent a lot of time together and they try their best, even if it’s tough financially.”

At the clinic, Dr Hemade and his team decided to support people through different means, by explaining alternative ways to feed their animal, or by finding an arrangement for the care payments. “We have to remain compassionate and be flexible, we’ll be okay one way or another,” Dr Hemade said, adding that “animals do have to eat though, and it’s becoming very hard.”

Florence Massena is a freelance journalist based in Norway after six years spent in Lebanon. She reports on the environment, women's issues, human rights and refugees in the Middle East, Africa and Europe

Follow her on Twitter: @FlorenceMassena