Lebanon's dogs of war
Roy Page, left, and Toby Springate, right, visit with four dogs they rescued and brought to the Beirut animal shelter. Photo by Julian Prictoe, NBC News.
Such a clichéd title for the tale I’m about to tell. Almost a year ago I found myself in New Orleans, covering Hurricane Katrina. It was the most heart-wrenching and emotionally disturbing assignment I have ever had.
In the terrible aftermath and weeks that followed, no matter how tired or dispirited our team got, they would come home to our make-shift camp, and rejoice in the companionship of three rescued critters: Katrina the kitten, Freeway the overgrown puppy, who was such a ham, and Storm, the pit bull pup that stole our hearts. We had become, over the weeks, a way station for all sorts, human and animal.
This month, I have been in Lebanon, covering the war, and now the tenuous cease-fire. During the fighting, we had an operation in Tyre, that most ancient of cities, in southern Lebanon. Yet again, as is always the case on these stories, we had a camp. NBC set up at the Rest House, a hotel that had seen better days even before the war hit.
We were there, along with the rest of the press corps, at the total mercy of the hotel "manager," possibly the most seedy, dodgy and slimy individual anyone could ever remember encountering. Our make-shift office was the abandoned dive shop at this ramshackle Mediterranean resort. Our satellite dish sat on the terrace, and our correspondent, producer, crew and engineer slept wherever they could, ate whatever we could send them and enjoyed a cold beer whenever they could find one.
Every day they went out into southern Lebanon and witnessed the awful, grim realities of war. And every night they would come back to base to the stray animals that lived in the beach sand and rubble and filth around the hotel.
I have often wondered over the years, why we in the press always seem to be rescuing animals. I have been asked, sometimes accusingly, whether I think animals matter more than people. I think it really boils down to size.
When you cover these tragic events, you can’t take it on. You can’t solve it. You can’t begin to stop it, and most times you can’t even make real sense of it. You are far from home, far from the kinder, quieter aspects of your life. And you bear witness to all the madness around you. Then, you find these small rays of light -- just a kitten or a puppy, that looks at you and you can help, so you do.
In the Middle East, the lot of any animal is a bad one. For dogs especially, the odds are really bad. Our four pups and their mom (who’s had her ears cut off, just for starters) lived, as near as we can tell, on the beach. We named them Mum, Spot-on-Nose, Scruffy, Blondie and Snooze. It was blisteringly hot on the sand, and the dogs would hunt for whatever shade they could, drinking fetid water and eating scraps.
The day that one hotel employee picked up a large umbrella stand and started hitting the pups while they were fast asleep (and I mean really hitting), the NBC team went ballistic. I will spare you the delicate exchange of words that was had, but suffice to say –- afterwards we became the official guardians of those pups and their mother!
When we closed our operation in Tyre, after the cease-fire had been announced, Roy Page and Toby Springate, a lovely British crew, knew what they had to do. Roy and Toby had become the official mentors of the lads. There was no doubt in their minds, or ours, that the five dogs would meet with a very untimely end the minute we departed the Rest House.
So Roy and Toby swung into action. They loaded up the family -- all the while our producers were scrambling to find a shelter for the hounds -- and headed north. So began their journey up to the only humane society in the entire country. Their first time in a car and not an "accident" between them!
Toby and Roy went to visit their charges in Beirut yesterday. They are settling in very nicely at BETA, the Beirut Ethical Treatment of Animals shelter in the hills above the city.
There we found Joelle El Massih and Helena Hesayne, gamely running the volunteer shelter -- one for dogs, and another for cats. The shelter has 160 dogs in it now, and the ladies have assured us that all have already got homes to go to in the U.S.A. So our rescued family will be going to good, caring homes where they will be loved. Roy and Toby are at the end of their assignment now, and they were quite misty-eyed when they came back in from their visit.
Photo caption: Roy Page plays with Spot-on-Nose, Scruffy, Blondie and Snooze at the Beirut Ethical Treatment of Animals shelter. Photo by Julian Prictoe, NBC News.
Twenty-five years ago, when I was a lot younger, I was here in Lebanon, covering the end of the civil war and the Israeli invasion.
A camera crew from London, Ken Ludlow and John Hall, rescued a small puppy in a city park. The park had been bombed, and the puppy had lived through it. His coat was still smoldering when the crew found him.
We named him Cease-fire, because at the time, they could never keep one. We did a piece on Cease-fire that morning, on the Today Show. He was adopted by a family in Seattle. NBC was there when he landed in Tacoma, Wash. I like to think Cease-fire had the best life, from his hard beginning. I know Toby and Roy want the same life for Mum, Spot-on-Nose, Scruffy, Blondie and Snooze.
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Our Humane Duty to Animals. Blog story: Lebanons Dogs of War
First, thank you to the NBC people for taking the time and having the heart to care.
So, after reading this article, especially the line do you think animals matter more than people?, I thought to ...
Posted on Aug 24, 2006 1:06:22 PM at:
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