Stray dogs approach you as you walk by the Zahrani Bridge’s underpass, in south Lebanon. They sniff the air from a distance, trying to make sure you are not there to harm them.
Most of these dogs suffer from physical disabilities, namely blindness and missing limbs, but they remain peaceful, wagging their tails as Hussein Hamza, 47, approaches to greet them.
It is rare to see someone in Lebanon dedicate their time and resources to help God’s “lesser creatures,” as some call them, but that is not the case when it comes to Hamza.
In a region where animals, especially stray ones, are treated poorly by humans, Hamza is a God-sent angel of mercy. For these strays, Hamza is the man who has saved them from death over the past few years. Many have been hit by speeding cars and trucks while trying to cross the dimly lit highway that ties the capital Beirut with south Lebanon.
Living in Germany for years has surely changed Hamza’s way of seeing animals. When he moved back to Lebanon to open his own flower shop and greenhouse, he couldn’t help but take care of the run over strays he used to see along the highway.
“Most people used to mock me when I rescued a stray…Many still do,” says Hamza, who transports the animals in his small beaten-up car to the nearest veterinarian or the animals’ hospital in Beirut.
“Some people tell me: ‘Why don’t you go and help your fellow humans instead?’ They do not understand that these strays suffer great injustice. They are weak and mute and cannot call on people for food or water. Most of them die out of thirst or hunger,” he adds.
Hamza also pays for the strays’ medical bills from his own pocket. He provides and administers medication to each and every hurt animal he crosses paths with, aside from providing food and water. And, whenever he can, he pays to neuter and spay the cats and dogs he rescues to prevent them from breeding.
“If I have 10 female dogs that are not neutered, then this means that I will get around 60 pups in six months, which is why it’s best to spay them,” he explains.
But all of Hamza’s good deeds are not without challenges. Providing for those animals costs an arm and a leg in a country where the minimum wage is $400, give or take.
Hamza’s bill for helping the strays—currently 100 dogs and 120 cats—costs up to $3,000 a month, straining his finances from his flower business, and is sometimes left with nothing.
He occasionally asks organizations that take care of animals to help him make ends meet, but most face the same situation as his, poor finances and lack of interest from the society.
It costs $120 to spay male dogs and $200 for the female dogs. But once it is done, it decreases the animal’s aggressiveness, and prevents their breeding, which is a better solution than to kill them and dump their carcasses on the streets, which proves to be a health and an environmental hazard.
In 2015, Burj Al Shamali municipality in southern Lebanon poisoned 180 stray dogs after a trained ferocious dog attacked 14 persons, including children. And the municipality was left with the dilemma of getting rid of the carcasses without creating an environmental problem.
For Hamza, poisoning an animal is inhumane as it suffers for hours and in some cases, for days from excruciating pain before dying.
“The fault in our society is that most parents raise their children to fear animals and strays. That’s when children grow up to be hostile against the animals, beating them, shooting and even poisoning them when they approach homes to receive food and water,” says Hamza.
Another problem, according to Hamza, is the number of pedigrees left on the streets, which has risen significantly over the past years.
“People used to own animals for fashion and not for the love of harboring them,” according to Hamza.
“When man helps a hurt animal, it builds mercy in his heart, which also builds in him the will to help other humans. I cannot see an animal in pain and not help it,” Hamza adds.