At a disorganized animal shop on the main road of Bourj Hammoud, a dog takes small steps inside a cage that is too small for its size.
Its alimentary, hygienic and physiological needs are neglected.
At closing hours, a cardboard box, filled with dead animals, including turtles, fish, rabbits and birds is carried out of the shop.
A university student and regular Bourj Hammoud visitor, Rabih, is not as shocked as I am by the scene.
“Sometimes, you’ll see much worse,” he explains. “I’ve gotten used to it, but I still get sad.”
The Bourj Hammoud shop is not a unique case. Jason Miers, executive director of Animals Lebanon, says that most pet shops in the country do not meet the minimum standards set by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Animal abuse does not solely involve physical abuse. It also means keeping a dog locked in a cage that’s too small for its size, neglecting its alimentary and physiological needs, poorly maintaining its level of dental and physical hygiene and not providing its sleeping area with adequate conditions of cleanliness.
“Because of the miserable conditions of animal shops, 95 percent should close down if they had to meet with basic standards,” explained Miers.
“You just need to buy a permit, without any regulation or legislation, to open up a shop and start selling animals to the public.”
Animals Lebanon, an NGO founded in September 2008, has closed down three of the most abusive zoos in Lebanon to date and has placed over a hundred animals in sanctuaries around the world. It is working at the moment to close the remaining zoos.
The organization has also established an adoption center six months ago.
It has now become home to many cats and dogs in need of care.
Animal abuse in Lebanon ranges from extreme mistreatment to less excessive, but still hurtful, behavior.
Dogs have been dragged by cars, used as bait in dog fights, or burnt alive.
In other cases, they have been over-chained, or just left alone without any human contact or interaction with other dogs until they developed obsessive behaviors, such as constantly licking their paws or compulsively engaging in back-and-forth movements.
Scientific research shows that abusers are brainwashed during their childhood to believe that animals have no feelings.
They are usually people who enjoy watching a helpless being suffer.
Another NGO specialized in animal rights, BETA (Beirut for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), works to protect and help animals through legislation, educational campaigns, and rescue and shelter activities.
Rima Barakat, who joined BETA in 2006 as a volunteer, is happy to help one of the very few NGOs defending animal rights in a country including over 14,000 registered organizations.
“It’s very hard to explain to these people that when you poke an animal, he feels it and when you don’t feed him, he feels hunger, and when you don’t give him shelter in winter, he feels cold,” Barakat said.
A major reason behind animal mistreatment is the unrevised 70-year old law that dates back to 1943 –when the Lebanese pound had a much higher value.
Animal welfare law 762 states that a person who mistreats or oppresses a pet is sentenced to jail and fined a penalty of less than only 15 dollars.
Extensive research by Animals Lebanon demonstrates that this law has not been used even once during the past 20 years.
Bassam, a shop owner, believes there is a lack of clarification and enforcement of the laws relating to animal rights.
“I treat the animals I sell well without the need of a law and, even if there was one, you can be sure nobody would follow it without the proper enforcement,” Bassam said.
Another reason relates to profit.
According to Bassam, the equipment needed to maintain a pet shop based on international standards and the valid sanitary papers required for the animals and the shop are quite expensive.
During November 2011, Animals Lebanon drafted the first comprehensive legislation for the protection and welfare of animals to the parliament after a year and a half of work and revisions by over 20 international organizations.
The 29-page-long draft proposes drastic changes in animals’ conditions, which would eventually cause some shops in Lebanon to close down.
One of the laws states “ensuring the proper equipment for the provision of food, water and a sufficient stock for at least one week of clean food and water.”
Another law points to “undertaking the appropriate measures to preserve the general hygiene of the premises of the institution.”
Despite the hindrances which are expected to face the legislative efforts, Miers says the organization will keep working toward clear legislation on the issue and strong awareness campaigns until the situation of animals in Lebanon improves.
“It could take around two years to pass the votes,” Miers said. “But we will keep meeting regularly with the Lebanese Parliament and Ministry of Agriculture to ensure this legislation is enacted as well as conducting strong awareness campaigns.”
By Francesco Laurenti
LAU Tribune Staff