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Lebanon's Animal Welfare law put to the test

A video of municipal workers in the Beirut area killing stray dogs has raised the ire of activists and calls for adherence to the Animal Welfare law.
Dogs are kept at a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals shelter in Monteverde, east of Beirut September 23 2006.  Some 300 homeless dogs and cats, many left behind by theirs owners who had fled Lebanon during the conflict between Israel and Hizbollah, will be heading to the U.S. for adoption by the Best Friends animal society.   REUTERS/Jamal Saidi (LEBANON) - GM1DTOHSGWAA

Members of the Ghobeiri municipality's Health Department created a public outcry at the end of 2017 when a video went viral showing them poisoning stray dogs in Dahiyeh, in south Beirut. They claimed to have been acting in response to complaints by residents and for the public's safety. The municipality issued a statement Dec. 29, the day after the incident, saying, “This was an individual act that members of the Health Department executed without orders from the head of the department concerned with controlling stray dogs. We strongly condemn this behavior.”

The video shows dogs on the ground, writhing in pain, as municipality officers stand by, waiting for them to die so they can take them away. The municipality announced that it had arrested those involved in the poisoning, paving the way for possible disciplinary legal action and behavioral measures.

Ghobeiri Mayor Maan al-Khalil told Al-Monitor, “We abide by the law of municipalities, and investigations are ongoing at the Ministry of Interior. We are waiting to receive more results, which will be announced in [complete] transparency.”

On Dec. 29, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk issued a decision tasking his ministry's General Directorate of Administrative and Local Councils with conducting a probe into the incident. In a Dec. 30 statement, the municipality expressed its commitment to Machnouk’s decision.

Even President Michel Aoun felt sufficiently compelled to comment on the incident, writing on his Facebook page, “Stray dogs may pose [a] danger to people in several ways but the methods to resolve these cases are also numerous. These methods are definitely not what we have witnessed on television and social media channels especially after the new Animal Protection law was signed earlier this year.”

Hani al-Ahmadiye, a private lawyer and civil society activist, told Al-Monitor, “Animal Welfare law No. 47 was issued recently to protect animals and criminalize the offender. Killing an animal is a penal crime subject to [punishment] comparable to a homicide. In most cases, the sanctions are limited to fines and do not extend to incarceration, despite the law.”

The Ghobeiri recording is of course not the first such video to surface and go viral showing animal abuse in Lebanon or the region. To cite a few, a video posted Dec. 15 showed a dog being dragged behind a municipal worker's truck in Ballouneh, north of Beirut. Another video, posted Jan. 2, shows a dead dog whose owner claims he was hanged in Chehour, in the south. Two years ago, Tony Msawwer, co-founder of Animals Pride and Freedom, posted a video showing a green-colored poison that had been used to kill 14 cats. He said, “Nuns in Saydet al-Ha’leh Convent [north of Beirut] committed this act.”

Some Muslims, in trying to justify killing and being cruel to animals, claim that Islam considers dogs impure. A mufti from the Supreme Islamic Shiite Council in Lebanon, however, told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “Islam does not allow killing animals. Islam has a merciful view of animals and a caring attitude toward dogs. Considering it an impure creature does not legitimize killing it and does not prohibit owning it, provided it does not enter the house. The last resort would be killing them, but mercifully.”

Speaking about people who feel the urge to torture animals, Nabil Khoury, a clinical psychologist in private practice, told Al-Monitor, “Such behavior is classified as a psychological illness,” adding that they may have repressed emotions or some other type of distress. “These people need therapy due to the complexes they have. … The person has no ethical or moral boundaries.”

Animal murder is not limited to individual acts, as evidenced by some municipalities in Lebanon organizing campaigns to get rid of them under the pretext of protecting the citizenry. In November 2016, the Tripoli municipality launched a campaign to rid the the city's streets and alleyways of stray dogs. The campaign turned into a murder spree.

Some individuals take it upon themselves to protect animals. One such person is Hussein Hamza, nicknamed the “dog and cat rescuer in the south.” Since 2006, Hamza has rescued stray dogs suffering from diseases or injuries and raised them on his farm in Zahrani, in southern Lebanon. Hamza works as a farmer, and over the course of his work, comes across dogs in need.

Laura Stanbach, a promient animal rights activist in Naqoura, in south Lebanon, has for six years had a farm where she now has 250 dogs and 200 cats. “The killing of dogs in Ghobeiri is unacceptable, as it messes with the environmental balance and violates the Lebanese Animal Welfare law,” she told Al-Monitor. Stanbach, who is awaiting approval to establish an animal association, said, “We have contacted international organizations to lodge a complaint against the Lebanese government and the municipality, and we are still waiting for their response. I ask the Lebanese state to punish the culprits so that others would not dare to commit a similar act.”

Stanbach added, “The Tyre municipality is the ideal example on how to treat animals, as it gathers stray dogs and castrates the male ones to limit their multiplication. Killing them does not solve the problem. I protect dogs also despite my limited budget.”

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