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Living a dog’s life: Hope for strays in Palestine

Jerusalem24 – Amir Elkadi – The stray animal population in Palestine is presenting a growing problem for their non-furry neighbors, while facing harsh problems of its own. Dogs and cats roam the streets in villages and cities, in search of food and facing harsh weather, illness and neglect.

While a number of Palestinians take in stray animals as pets and care for them, the majority are left to fend for themselves.

“The local community do not adopt from the strays, even though they are very clever and are the indigenous and oldest species in Palestine,” Diana Babish tells Jerusalem24.

Babish has rescued thousands of stray animals in the occupied West Bank since 2014, when she established the only formally registered animal shelter in Palestine, the Animal and Environment Association–Bethlehem.

“People don’t want strays as pets”

Like elsewhere across the globe, the stray population in Palestine is likely to be made up in part of abandoned pet animals and their offspring, escaped working animals and their offspring, and, potentially, animals deliberately released into the region.

One of the aims of the shelter when she set it up, explains Babish, was to help control the increasing population of strays, by implementing neutering and rehoming programs.

Other informal initiatives can be found across Palestine, with veterinarians or private citizens taking it upon themselves to offer shelter or medical care to abandoned animals – but this is not enough to deal with the huge number of strays. “We have more than ten thousand dogs roaming the West Bank,” says Babish.

Compounding this problem, is the fact that many people in Palestine prefer to buy expensive pure-breed dogs instead of adopting strays, says Babish. “People do not intend to have strays as their pets. They pay a lot of money instead of taking care of one soul and taking them off the street.”

Abuse and neglect are also an issue, and Babish works with the police to prevent animal abuse, as well as providing vaccinations, microchips, and other measures which can increase the animals’ well-being.

Babish and the staff at the shelter believe that a strong law protecting animals and imposing severe penalties on those who abuse them is crucial in addressing the issue. Currently, explains Babish, Jordanian Law is still applicable, which imposes a fine of five Jordanian dinars for animal abuse. “This is nothing,” she says.

Home and away

The best option for strays very often consists in rehoming them with a welcoming family. Given the number of animals that have passed through Babish’s care, the only realistic option is sometimes to send them abroad.

“We were able to re-home many dogs inside the Green Line [inside Israel] or abroad,” says Babish. “We send yearly many cats and dogs to Europe, Canada and The United States. Our shelter is very small in Beit Sahour, and we can’t contain all the numbers.”

These rehoming journeys aren’t always straightforward, however, due to the situation in the occupied West Bank. Shelter staff face movement restrictions between locations in the occupied West Bank due to Israeli military checkpoints, as well as when they attempt to cross into Israel to bring animals to hospitals there, as all West Bank Palestinians require Israeli-issued permits to enter.

“The lack of having a permit is a problem for us to cross and move dogs,” says Babish, “so we look for people to help us and drive these dogs inside.”

The importance of community

Despite these difficulties, one of the main obstacles faced by the shelter remains a lack of support from official institutions as well as the local community.

“We do not receive any fund from the local governments or local municipalities,” explains Babish. “We have to depend on ourselves in approaching other organizations – mostly abroad and from the local community. Maybe some of the people who have passion for strays might inform us about a cat, a donkey or a dog that needs rescue.”

Babish insists that local and government institutions must step up.

“We are working on behalf of the municipalities. This is mainly the [role] of the municipality – but many municipalities shoot dogs and poison stray animals,” laments Babish.

Advocating on behalf of strays has had some small measure of success, says Babish, with Ramallah Municipality recently rolling out a sterilization program. Until now, it is the only municipality to have done so.

And Babish appeals to the wider community to do their part as well.

“The local community should be involved because it is part of the problem. They have the same problem, feeling fear from the strays attacking their children or barking at night. It is a common problem in the West Bank, so it has to involve all parts of the community.”

“A bit of donations can help us largely in the rescues. We do not say no to any case.”

Babish encourages everyone to “consider and appreciate the work that we do”.

“These animals are part of our lives and community. People have to be cooperative in this and donate whatever they can – like food, blankets and payment for some of the vets. Secondly, international support is very important because we need to expand programs to sterilize stray animals to control the population.”

Listen to the full interview on Vibes and find out what you can do to help – or visit the shelter’s Facebook page and donations page.

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