The Daily Telegraph
Pet rescues bring comfort to Beirut’s blast-stricken residents
THE day after the Beirut blast, Kamal Khatib ignored the warnings of the Lebanese civil defence to make one more rescue from a crumbling apartment in the Gemmayze neighbourhood.
As he descended the stairs on his way out, he could feel the century-old building shaking, and minutes later, the second floor collapsed. The risk had been worth it, the 48-year-old volunteer said, as he had saved a life.
Shortly afterwards at a nearby hospital, a tearful and injured resident was reunited with her beloved Siamese cat.
“You don’t feel the danger… it’s complete focus for the animals,” Mr Khatib said. “It’s not taking risk, it’s rescuing.”
The August 4 explosion of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate at Beirut’s port destroyed an estimated 50,000 homes in the Lebanese capital, killing at least 178 and wounding some 6,000 people. There is no centralised list of the missing, but the United Nations says at least 30 people remain unaccounted for.
In the confusion after the blast, panicked residents jammed phone lines asking after friends and relatives, and rushed injured neighbours to crowded emergency rooms. For hundreds of Beirut pet-owners, a realisation that their animals were missing came next.
The pressure wave from the blast had flung cats from shattered windows and balconies, while terrified dogs fled. Fears for their welfare superseded any concern over destroyed homes or lost livelihoods, owners said.
“I was going crazy, I was in the street looking all night, I didn’t sleep,” said Rita Ragavlas, 48, whose cats Luna and Dodo disappeared in the blast.
Within two hours of the explosion, local welfare group Animals Lebanon had volunteers on the ground, looking for injured and frightened animals.
The day after the explosion, Ranwa Mouzanner found her Yorkshire terrier via a post shared on the Animals Lebanon Instagram page, and said being reunited with Sake had helped her process the trauma of losing her home and being injured by falling glass.
“I’m with him literally all the time, it’s so comforting, he tries to lick my wounds,” the 26-year-old said from her aunt’s house in the mountains outside Beirut, where she is recuperating. “I felt guilty to be sad because people were looking for their children and relatives and I was looking for my dog, but at the same time he’s like my son.”
In the first 10 days after the explosion, Animals Lebanon said they had reunited 104 owners with their pets. They also gave veterinary care to 73 injured animals and distributed over two tonnes of pet food.
After four sleepless nights, Ms Ragavlas was reunited with Dodo. A volunteer spotted his tail disappearing into a destroyed apartment and climbed through a first floor window to get him.
“Having him it’s like therapy now, there’s something from your life that’s still ticking,” Ms Ragavlas said.
“Since they found Dodo, I started smiling again.”