Syria shel­ter lends help­ing paw to an­i­mals

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

SAHNAYA, Syria: In the sandy yard of a shel­ter near the Syr­ian cap­i­tal Da­m­as­cus, a three­legged dog bounds ex­cit­edly, her tongue swing­ing as she runs de­spite her am­pu­tated limb. Betty is one of 350 an­i­mals housed at a farm-turned-shel­ter run by the Syr­ian Team for An­i­mal Res­cue (STAR), whose vol­un­teers de­scribe their wards as “for­got­ten vic­tims” of Syria’s war. “The war spared no one. An­i­mals have fled just like hu­man be­ings, but at least hu­mans have refugee cen­tres and or­ga­ni­za­tions to feed them,” say Ha­mada Azqul, an agri­cul­tural en­gi­neer and STAR vol­un­teer.

More than 300,000 peo­ple have been killed and mil­lions dis­placed by the con­flict that be­gan with anti-gov­ern­ment protests in March 2011. And the con­flict has not spared an­i­mals like Betty, a brown-haired mutt who lost a leg af­ter sus­tain­ing a bul­let wound. The shel­ter, in Sahnaya, 14 km south­west of Da­m­as­cus, is home to dogs and cats, but also more ex­otic an­i­mal vic­tims of the con­flict, in­clud­ing tur­tles and col­or­ful birds.

Many are be­ing treated for war wounds or an­i­mal abuse, which vol­un­teers say has in­creased since the con­flict be­gan, while oth­ers were left be­hind by own­ers flee­ing vi­o­lence around Syria’s cap­i­tal. Ger­man shep­herds and shaggy-haired ter­ri­ers prance ex­cit­edly as STAR staff mem­bers stroll into the yard, the dogs jump­ing up on their hind legs to reach the faces of young vol­un­teers. Founded in May 2016, STAR is treat­ing 110 an­i­mals in its in­fir­mary, in­clud­ing Noisy, a frail blind cat, and Sweetie, a choco­late-brown dog who was shot in the back. Other pets have un­der­gone am­pu­ta­tions, are par­tially par­a­lyzed, or are re­cov­er­ing from burns or knife wounds with the help of STAR’s 11 vol­un­teers.

No Scraps for Strays

More than half of Syria’s pop­u­la­tion has been dis­placed by war, with nearly five mil­lion seek­ing refuge in neigh­bor­ing coun­tries. “Peo­ple who were forced to flee didn’t take their pets with them,” says Hanadi Al-Mu­ta­has­seb, STAR’s 38-yearold founder. Those an­i­mals left be­hind face star­va­tion, pos­si­ble in­jury by shells or gun­fire, or abuse. “In this war, every­one who car­ries weapons fires on an­i­mals that bother them, so more an­i­mals need sup­port,” Mu­ta­has­seb says. Ev­ery day, STAR re­ceives dozens of Face­book mes­sages from concerned ci­ti­zens about wounded or aban­doned an­i­mals, and its own net­work of vol­un­teers brings in in­jured pets found wan­der­ing the streets. Syria’s con­flict has rav­aged the coun­try’s in­fras­truc­ture and econ­omy, lead­ing to a de­val­ued pound and high un­em­ploy­ment. That means the dis­carded scraps that many strays used to sur­vive on are of­ten no longer avail­able, with Syr­i­ans us­ing ev­ery last bit of food they can. The dire eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion - and the dif­fi­culty of ob­tain­ing visas to leave - have af­fected both Syria’s ci­ti­zens and its an­i­mals. “Be­fore the war, sev­eral Euro­pean coun­tries wel­comed some of Syria’s crit­i­cal an­i­mal cases. But to­day, an­i­mals can no longer travel be­cause they, too, can’t get visas,” says vol­un­teer Iman Amayra, 28. Her hair cov­ered by a tra­di­tional white scarf, she plays with Car­men, a white cat who lost her eyes in a car ac­ci­dent.

SAHNAYA, Syria: A Syr­ian vol­un­teer plays with an­i­mals at a farm-turned-shel­ter run by the Syr­ian Team for An­i­mal Res­cue (STAR) on Oct 18, 2016.

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