By: Susan Bird
October 3, 2016
Even in war-torn Syria, animals have brave protectors. Have you heard the story of the “Cat Man of Aleppo”?
His name is Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel. In a life now long gone, he was an electrician. Today, he’s the guardian angel to more than 150 stray and abandoned cats.
His makeshift cat sanctuary began by accident when Aljaleel noticed some stray cats lingering around an area devastated by an airstrike. An avid cat lover, he brought them food. Food draws more cats, of course. If they get food, they stay put.
Between the strays who found him and the friends who entrusted their pets to his care before they fled the war or died, Aljaleel now watches over up to 150 cats. Even the Civil Defense force brings him injured cats to care for.
“Any stray cats in Aleppo, or pet cats left behind by residents, we protect them in this little sanctuary,” Aljaleel told the BBC. “Since everyone left the country, including my own friends, these cats have become my friends here.”
His daily routine is to buy a couple of dollars’ worth of meat scraps from a local butcher. If that butcher is feeling magnanimous that day, he might add a few additional pieces for free. Augmenting the meat with rice and anything else he can find, Aljaleel feeds his feline charges.
When the war in Syria broke out in 2011, Aljaleel could have done what so many others did. He could have fled. In fact, he had a shot at a job as a mechanic in Turkey. However, he and his family decided they had to stay. Aljaleel wanted to be there to help those in need. For him, the needy turned out to be the homeless cats of Aleppo.
“I regard animals and humans in the same light,” Aljaleel told Newsweek. “All of them suffer pain, and all of them deserve compassion.”
The cats get fed thanks to mostly to crowdfunding.
These cats get fed mostly through crowdfunding. Photo credit: Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel (“Il Gattaro D’Aleppo” Facebook group)
Aljaleel understands the grief of people forced to leave beloved pets behind in a war zone. One little girl was so distraught when she handed him her kitten that Aljaleel makes sure to take photos of that cat for her. He sends them to her from his smartphone so she can see her cat is still alive and thriving. That’s a good hearted man.
Caring for the cats isn’t the only aid Aljaleel renders. His real job these says is driving ambulances and searching for victims in the rubble of airstrikes. His duty to the cats, however, holds a special place in his heart. There’s a playground right next door, and so Aljaleel makes sure the friendly household cats wear red collars so the kids know which ones they can pet.
Aljaleel plans to stay in Aleppo, no matter how bad things get. He feels a responsibility to these innocent creatures who have no one else to look to. There’s no such thing as an animal shelter in Syria, but building and running one someday is Aljaleel’s fervent dream. For now, though, he’ll care for Aleppo’s cats on the street.
“I said I’ll stay with them no matter what happens,” Aljaleel told the BBC. “Someone who has mercy in their heart for humans has mercy for every living thing.”
stray cats in Syria
Photo credit: Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel (“Il Gattaro D-Aleppo” Facebook group)
Donations fund this effort. In fact, crowdfunding helps in a lot of ways in this neighborhood. Because it’s next to impossible to send funds directly to anyone in Syria, donations go through a French group called Syria Charity. Those interested in following the story of Aljaleel and these cats can join a Facebook group called Il Gattaro D’Aleppo. It currently has more than 7,000 members.
Staying in Aleppo is a potentially deadly undertaking. Aljaleel knows he and his family are at constant risk.
“Every day, when I leave my house, I know I might not return,” Aljaleel told Newsweek. “In Syria, it’s only going from bad to worse.”
Take a moment to send some positive thoughts Aljaleel’s way. He’s a courageous animal lover, risking his life for the sake of the cats — and the people — who need him. Few others would do something so selfless and so dangerous. Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel is a special kind of hero.