The dog slept in the middle of Gaza City’s Shuhada Street. It was struck by a car. It glanced around unsure and afraid, but growled ferociously when anyone attempted to pick it up.
Following a phone call, a man wearing pants and a hoodie showed up. He went out of the car, scooped up the dog, and removed it without incident.
This was Saeed al-Err, the 50-year-old founder of Gaza’s first and only animal rescue organization, Sulala Animal Rescue.
His Gaza City sanctuary is home to more than 350 dogs. Another rented house in the city houses approximately 40 cats, while he cares for 30 more at his residence.
Err asserts that he has always liked animals and frequently took in strays. A turning point occurred when one of Gaza’s municipalities posted on Facebook that it would pay $3 (£2.30) for any dog murdered in the region.
Err was outraged and responded online. He received notes from the general public, media, and other animal rights organizations. He went to the municipal office the following morning to explain why the plan was flawed. Officials removed the sign.
With a bank loan, Err rented land for animal housing. He utilized his own money and public donations to feed them, and he visited restaurants and banquet venues to request donations of leftover food.
After a year, the loan had been repaid and he was forced to sell his automobile to raise funds. Some of the animals were adopted, while others were placed on any available land.
The authorities asked him to open the shelter in Gaza City just as he was contemplating closing. Recently, a second shelter opened in northern Gaza.
“Every day, I receive approximately ten calls concerning animals in need of rescue. “I wish I had thirty minutes to myself,” he says.
He sees his eight children infrequently. “Sally, my wife, is responsible for everything. Additionally, she provides medication, food, and care for all of the sick animals in my home. I could have accomplished nothing without her.”
Sally states, “It was challenging at first.” Time management is crucial. When dealing with a cat with a broken jaw, the most difficult thing for me is crushing the food and carefully feeding it. But I’m not bothered. It is a noble act.”
The most hardest aspect of his job, according to Err, is seeing an animal die. The general public is aware of our triumphs and the animals we’ve rescued. This is not always the case. “It is beneficial for animals to have company during their final moments, so they can pass away gently instead of being alone and terrified.”
However, there have been numerous wonderful times.
Lucy was rendered paralyzed when a car smashed her hind legs. Err created his own prosthetic limbs for animals in Gaza using toy vehicles and bicycle parts. He enlisted the assistance of his mechanical engineer brother and got the device constructed.
Lucy froze the first time the prosthetic was placed on her. She was perplexed by the metal attachment to her body, according to Err. “I brought food and placed it before her. She began to go forward but initially could not maintain her equilibrium. Then she realized she could walk once more.”
Lucy wore the prosthetic for half an hour on the first day. A week later, she wore it daily for two hours.
The epidemic added to the difficulty of rescuing animals during lockdown. When rumors emerged that cats and dogs transmitted Covid, Err had to go online to reassure individuals.
According to Err, awareness and support for animal welfare in Gaza have increased significantly.
In 2019, Al-Azhar University in the city began a veterinary medicine program, which Err views as a move in the right direction for improving the care of pets and smaller animals. (According to Err, there are veterinarians in Gaza, but they primarily treat livestock.)
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Meanwhile, rescue center volunteers visit nurseries and schools to teach youngsters the significance of animal care.
Err has also gotten international community backing. One organization offered to cover the salaries of two shelter employees for six months. Several communities have contacted him about creating their own animal shelters, and the number of individuals adopting animals is increasing. Prior to accepting an adoption, Err ensures that the animals will be placed in a safe environment and attempts to schedule follow-up visits.
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However, according to Err, there is still plenty to do. “We have traveled a great distance, but our trip has only begun. I aspire to one day establish a specialized animal hospital that serves all species. I would like to see fully-equipped animal shelters and widespread animal awareness.”
He has assisted hundreds of animals over the years, including donkeys and horses, but his favorite is a cat named Minwer.
“After hard days, I get home to find Minwer waiting for me. If I wrap myself in a blanket to keep warm, he would tap my hand to get me to remove it so he may join me. I hope that one day all animals will be able to find a sanctuary like Minwer.”
Ziad Ali is a journalist from the Gaza Strip who primarily writes about civil society and cultural issues. He has partnered with the German cultural organization ifa.