A life-line for Gaza's stray dogs

A life-line for Gaza's stray dogs
In-depth: One family have taken it upon themselves to care for Gaza City's strays, reports Rami Almeghari.
4 min read
21 January, 2018
Salman Aler looks after puppies at the Sulala farm, south of Gaza [Rami Almeghari]
Dozens of stray dogs and cats left to eke out a life as scavengers on the rough streets of Gaza have been rescued and taken to a new home on farmland, thanks to the Sulala organisation for animal care.

The land, in the Zahraa district south of the city, has now been rented by Sulala for two years.

"At this farm, we are relocating stray dogs and cats, with the aim of providing them with food and medication and some safer accommodation," Salman Aler told The New Arab, as he fed several dogs. "I spend long hours by the animals' side. Yet, we in the association for animals are also in need of help - in order to keep providing such care."

Now Salman and his nephew Saed - the only day-to-day staffers left of the Sulala NGO - are trying to take care of the 15 dogs and many more stray cats who remain on the site.

"Since we decided to reopen the Sulala organisation two years ago, Salman and I have been able to collect hundreds of stray dogs and cats and bring them to this place, in the hope of providing them with the care they need. We now only have a number of 15 dogs, as you see," said Saed Aler, as he tended to Sasha, a tan dog who has been recovering from recent wounds.
We realised that this dog had severe wounds on his back, which made him lose all his hair on his back. With the help of some little medication, along with cleaning, we were able to help him recover

Looking healthier

Sasha now looks healthier than when he was brought to the farm several weeks ago. The dog had been attacked by other stray dogs, on the streets of southern Gaza City.
Sasha's tan fur has grown back thanks to the
treatment received at Sulala [Rami Almeghari]

"We realised that this dog had severe wounds on his back, which made him lose all his hair on his back. With the help of some little medication, along with cleaning, we were able to help him recover and restore his lovely tan hair." Saed and Salman stand proudly in front of Sasha.

More care

The rescue workers also provide vaccination and medication with the help of local veterinarians.

"These clinics promptly help provide us with the vaccination and medication, needed sometimes. In addition, we collect remains of meat left unsold by local stores and carry them to the farm. We provide each dog with two meals a day," said Salman, while playing with one of the dogs, near the animal's makeshift kennel.
As of the end of 2017, I was even unable to pay the rent for the farmland

Restrictions on work

The Sulala organisation for animal care was first launched back in 2006, but has not been able to operate continually because of the practical fall-out of the political division between the internationally isolated Hamas movement ruling in Gaza and the internationally recognised Fatah in the West Bank.

"I was surprised that local banks wouldn't allow some NGOs to open bank accounts. This was a big challenge for me, as I run the organisation on my own - sometimes at the expense of my own children," said Said Ale'r, the 48-year-old head of Sulala.

"As of the end of 2017, I was even unable to pay the rent for the farmland. And as you can see, all the furniture and equipment from the office - which is now closed, is here in storage in my own home."

Said is now a retired Palestinian Authority officer. He explained that the idea of caring for the stray dogs came to mind when he was invited by the PA to take part in an intensive training programme for the training and care of dogs, held in Russia, more than 10 years ago.

"I have been fond of dogs since I was a little child. My family had lived around farmlands outside the nearby Nuseirat refugee camp, and in those farmlands I was able to see stray dogs moving around the orchard trees. Since then, I have been touched by the fact that those animals had no one to take care of them," said Said.

After internecine violence following the Hamas victory in 2006 elections led to Hamas routing Fatah from the Gaza Strip in 2007, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, of the Fatah party, effectively outlawed Hamas.

There are about 800 non-governmental organisations working in the Gaza Strip, but Sulala is the only one concerned solely with animal welfare. Over the past ten years, there have been restrictions imposed on the work of those NGOs, as funding sent to the coastal territory controlled by the internationally boycotted Islamist Hamas movement dried up.

"Believe it or not, these days, I have seriously considered shutting this project down, once and for all. In the past, I was able to get a personal bank loan and sell my car, in order to spend on the Sulala organisation. As of now, there is nothing left that I can sell; I also myself have a family of eight members, who need a great deal of care," said Said.

Rami Almeghari is a Palestinian freelance journalist living and working in Gaza. 

Follow him on Twitter: @writeralmeghari