Stray dogs find shelter in battered Gaza
In an impoverished and war-battered territory suffering food shortages and a scarcity of jobs, Saeed al-Ar knew it was a tall order opening a dog shelter in Gaza.
The Palestinian coastal enclave crammed with 1.9 million people has been devastated by three wars against Israel since 2008, and it remains under blockade by the Jewish state and Egypt.
The fate of hundreds of stray dogs outside towns or near the Israeli security fence have been anything but a priority.
“How can we create a shelter for strays when we need shelter ourselves?” is the typical view, as expressed by a 27-year-old unemployed Gazan, Jasser al-Sheikh.
“We must first feed our children and find jobs for thousands of unemployed graduates.” But Ar, a 45-year-old father of seven, has taken it upon himself to intervene, spending his own money to rescue the strays. Last month, he opened the territory’s first dog sanctuary in a relatively well-off suburb south of Gaza City.
His Al-Soulala Association for Protection, Rehabilitation and Training covers 2,700 square metres, complete with kennels which currently house around 75 former strays.
Behind beige tarpaulin on a vast sandy expanse, dogs are fed and given training to run and jump obstacles. “This is the first kennel in Palestine that supports stray dogs and domesticates them,” Ar told AFP. He used to run a police unit for dogs specialising in the detection of explosives and drugs, and admits that canines have always been his passion.
When the Islamist movement Hamas seized power in Gaza in 2007, Ar found himself out of a job. But he still collects a salary and now dedicates all his time to the dogs.
In the predominantly Muslim territory, religious authorities consider dogs to be unclean or impure.