Though Mohammad Aljaleel could have fled Syria with his family, he chose instead to remain behind and care for the less fortunate - including forgotten felines.
Since the Syria civil war began in 2011, more than 4.7 million people have been displaced from their homes and forced to flee to neighboring countries, such as Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Not only have the treks been arduous and dangerous, they’ve been emotionally burdening due to the fact that the refugees were forced to leave their lives behind.
In addition to abandoning jobs, security, and material goods, few families were able to travel with their pets. In effect, thousands of stray cats and dogs roam crumbling cities in Syria.
When the attacks began, a man named Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel considered fleeing from the violence with millions of others. But he and his family decided that it’d be best to remain in Syria where they could offer aid to the less fortunate, including abandoned felines.
Every day, Aljaleel drives to a local butcher shop and purchases about $2.50-worth of scraps to feed many of the cats left in the city of Aleppo. Because most in the area know that he has a heart for the felines, oftentimes, the butcher will throw in extra pieces of meat and bits of bone for free.
With the food in tow, he’ll walk through a familiar neighborhood and feed about 150 cats – many who were abandoned by their human families.
Aljaleel told Newsweek:
“I regard animals and humans in the same light. All of them suffer pain, and all of them deserve compassion.”
Though a questionnaire by World Animal Protection determined that most people would prefer to evacuate with their pets, few are able to when disaster strikes. Fortunately, activists like Aljaleel feel it is part of their mission to care for the animals that could not accompany their humans to safer territories.
Without the essential aid that Aljaleel provides, the cats would likely face a slow death by starvation, injury or disease. Plus, caring for the felines brings joy to the former electrician’s life and others in the area. He says that kids come from all parts of the city of Aleppo to interact with the cats.
“It brings the kids so much joy to play with them,” Aljaleel says. “I take great pride in the work I’m doing.”
The noble work began when Aljaleel first noticed a few strays hanging around the rubble of a home destroyed during an airstrike. It was instinctual to feed them. Of course, a few strays turned into ten, then 20, then 100+. The activist says “cats always find out when there’s food around.”
Some have argued that Mohammad’s time could be better spent offering aid to humans, but the activist firmly believes that his efforts are worth it. After all, some put themselves in grave danger to venture to new lands with their cats and dogs. Therefore, by helping the strays, Aljaleel is helping the humans who love(d) them.
Though violence still prevails in Syria, Mohammad dreams of one day building an animal shelter and hospital for his furry friends. If that isn’t inspiring, we don’t know what is.
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