TRIPOLI — The sight of purebred dogs wandering on the roadside, still wearing their collars, has become a regular sight in Lebanon, as the dual crises of inflation and Covid-19 leave households at their wits-end.
On Monday, on the outskirts of the northern city of Tripoli, a flatbed truck pulled up to the property of “Uncle” Mahmoud – who for decades has taken in unwanted dogs on his sprawling property.
Inside was a yellow Labrador and her five puppies in two cardboard boxes. A teenage boy and his friend got out bashfully to unload the whimpering animals.
“This is what our Islam is today! People are so greedy they won’t even feed their dogs; they want everything for themselves,” growled Mahmoud as he walked from the trailer where he lives to the road.
But in a span of minutes, he took in the dogs anyway, finding a covered area next to his outdoor makeshift kitchen to allow the mother room to feed her pups.
Dogs are everywhere on the sprawling property, roaming alongside cats and chickens, and feeding off of piles of intestines – refuse from butchers and the only food their caretaker can secure for free.
“There’s at least 100 dogs here, look around,” he says in exasperation.
Almost all of them have arrived in the past four months, according to Zaynab Razzouk, who heads the animal protection NGO Carma in the neighboring district of Koura.
“Those dogs who are there are all new,” she told Asia Times, explaining that her group had previously relocated around 40 dogs from Uncle Mahmoud’s to a more formal shelter.
With the outbreak of Covid-19 in Lebanon in late February, dogs are now getting dumped every day.
“Daily we find new dogs – house dogs, not strays – on the streets. Most of them even have collars,” said Razzouk.
In addition, she says, Carma is inundated with messages from people asking if the NGO’s shelter, currently at capacity with 56 mainly sick dogs and cats, can take in yet another unwanted pet.
Lebanon is entering its sixth month of financial crisis, which has seen thousands of job cut and salaries slashed.
Foreign reserves are rapidly depleting, and the local currency’s longstanding peg to the dollar (once 1,500 LBP to $1) has unraveled to 2,000 LBP and higher, resulting in soaring inflation in the import-dependent country.
Informal capital controls mean even families with means can only take a limited amount of money out of their own accounts.
An economic issue
The price of dog food has risen by 50% or more in recent months, with one of the cheapest and most ubiquitous brands, that once cost 30,000 ($15) Lebanese pounds per 18 kilogram bag, is now topping 45,000 ($23).
“This is an economic issue. It’s very difficult for people to afford the things they need for their pets,” said Jason Mier, executive director of Animals Lebanon.
Then, on February 21, Lebanon flagged its first Covid-19 case. Within weeks, non-essential shops were ordered shut and gatherings banned, leading to a new culling of jobs. The country currently has 463 cases, and has recorded 12 deaths.
For people already struggling to budget for dog food, fears that pets could transmit Covid-19 are often the last straw.
People once asked Animals Lebanon for advice. Now, Mier says, everyone is desperate to find a home for their pet.
“We’re getting more than 100 requests per week,” Mier told Asia Times. “People who are just contacting us saying, ‘I can no longer afford to take care of my animal. Can you find me an adopter? Or I have to throw it in the street.’”
“Lots of people are just abandoning their animals,” he added.
Wallaby in the office
In recent days, animal rights advocates have been working to dispel fears that household pets could transmit Covid-19 to those around them.
“Today I want to tell you, you don’t need to get rid of your household pets, because there is no evidence to date that dogs, cats or any other domestic animal can pass on the coronavirus to people,” said a Red Cross representative in a video published with support from the World Health Organization office.
Uncle Mahmoud says he’s a living example that there is nothing to fear.
“I have about 100 dogs, there’s chickens, cats and whatever else. And nothing happened to me,” he said.
“I’m trying my best to keep the place clean,” he sighed.
Mier currently has a wallaby living in his office, after the Beirut airport closure thwarted planned wildlife evacuations.
Animals Lebanon, traditionally funded by local individuals and companies, had in recent months began to look abroad for support. But now, with the global downturn, “everyone is having a money issue.”
The best thing people in Lebanon can do to help, he says, is to adopt.