A translated version of this piece is Available in: العربية (Arabic)
Recently, there has been an increasing amount of social media coverage about cases of animals being abused and killed, showing that these crimes are a growing phenomenon and not rare, isolated incidents. The posts show incidents involving vehicles running over stray cats and dogs, without drivers bothering to stop and attempt to save the animals they injured. Particularly on highways, it has become very common to see one vehicle after another passing quickly over the helpless bodies that are soon leveled into lifeless carpets of fur. Another side of the tragedy, according to veterinarians, is that some animals are sexually abused and as a result, they are prone to syphilis, which they can contract from people with the disease. All of this happens amid shameful societal silence. Due to this increasing violence, we have resorted to social media platforms to create Ata’a Initiative for Environment and Animal Support, the first animal support initiative in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. Our 15 members are volunteers who are fond of animals and have been rescuing animals since the initiative was announced in early 2020.
Founding the initiative and the beginning of formal and community engagement
At the beginning of 2020, with our few individual resources, we attempted to gradually provide healthcare to wounded and sick animals. With the increase in cases, we had to take a step that would help us cover as many cases as possible, and this is when we publicly announced the initiative on Facebook to get more help. In keeping with Islamic teachings that call for compassionate treatment of animals, we have managed to attract many volunteers as well as one veterinarian, Dr. Majdi al-A’amri. With this mobilization, the doctor has managed to treat a number of cases of animals with the flu, repair broken bones that need casts or metal plates, perform a series of surgeries for animals with bullet injuries, assist with prolonged labor, and provide physical therapy to animals with disabilities. In due course, we realized that in order to expand our work, we would need to formally register the initiative, which would make us the first registered animal support initiative in Yemen. Local authorities in Sana’a were very welcoming when we applied in April 2020.. Yet, and until we finalize registration, we are still in need of organized collaboration with the authorities, civil society organizations and other similar initiatives. In the meantime, we continue our work with hope that formal registration will give us the basis for future organized collaborative efforts and support for our work, so that we can expand into other governorates and establish a larger network of veterinarians and members.
Sadly, we still lack sufficient collaboration from the community. In spite of this, it is important to recognize that those who genuinely believe in what we do have provided significant support that has enabled us to continue to date. Some people donated as much money as they could, while others generously opened their houses to shelter disabled animals or those in need of care during recovery. Our members have been financially contributing on a weekly or monthly basis to sustain and continue the rescue processes, including treatment follow-ups and allocation of food and shelter. They have also put so much of their time and effort into conducting field trips to locate animals in need of assistance and document cases in order to liaise with veterinarians. Additionally, our members keep on spreading awareness on animal rights in their communities and on social media, which has resulted in changing attitudes and behaviors.
The role of social media
We chose Facebook to mobilize and bring members and volunteers together, because of the large numbers of Yemeni activists already on the platform who advocate for various causes. Facebook has also allowed us to receive and share information about stray animals in need of rescue and assistance. Gradually, Facebook users, who share our interests, began to post and share details that helped us locate the animals, and then respond to their needs by coordinating with doctors and volunteers. Through Facebook, people who live in different areas in Sana’a began contacting us to donate, adopt or provide temporary shelter for animals.
Online posts have been noticeably increasing, whether on the initiative’s page or on personal accounts. Despite this progress, the maximum interaction with our online content reaches only 50 comments per post, which is a lot less than we hoped for. At the same time, what has made us hopeful is that recently we have increased the number of followers, despite only creating the page a year ago. Usually our followers are between 17 and 50-years-old Facebook users who share our love of animals. So far, we have managed to attract 2,000 followers, and our posts often have 1,000-2000 shares. In our Facebook posts, we try to provide a summary of each case, and always followed by the hashtag of the initiative’s name and other hashtags referring to compassion, such as #أمم_أمثالكم #قيم_دينية #قيم_انسانية #هنا_اليمن #رفق #رحمة #إحسان.
Challenges that face animal rescue
Although some doctors collaborate with us, the number of medical health providers willing to work with us is still insufficient. We are also struggling with logistics. Even before the war, the situation of veterinary medicine in Yemen suffered from neglect. For example, we have not been able to find a single veterinarian clinic that has full surgical, laboratory and radiography equipment. In addition, we have fewer veterinarians than specialists in other medical fields; the majority of available veterinarians specialize in livestock health care; and veterinarians in Yemen are generally denied technical development training opportunities.
After six years of war, financial limitations present the most difficult challenge. The war has led to the accelerating of inflation and the continuing deterioration of the Yemeni economy and currency, as well as an ongoing oil and gas subsidies crisis. For all these reasons, the costs of medication and healthcare have skyrocketed in recent years. Another factor that contributes to the rise of medication costs is the multiple fees imposed on imported goods by every single authority governing the external and internal borders of the country. Furthermore, public sector employees, including veterinarians in most Yemeni governorates, have not been paid their salaries for more than four years. Consequently, many veterinarians refuse to collaborate with us, either because they cannot afford transportation costs or because they cannot afford pro bono procedures.
When most Yemenis cannot afford basic life needs, it becomes very difficult for us to find the level of community engagement to which we aspire. The dire conditions that people have been enduring in the country makes it very difficult for them to take our work seriously as it is considered a luxury given the circumstances. The commandments of Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, have clearly asked us to be compassionate towards animals. More importantly, verse 38 of Surah al-Ana’am in the Quran refers to animals as “communities like you, ‘humans’”. We, of course, acknowledge the financial constraints that make assisting animals unaffordable. What we cannot tolerate, however, is the intentional harm that humans sadistically inflict upon animals. The fact that parents do not object to their children’s behavior towards stray animals, especially when they abuse kittens and puppies for amusement, is not acceptable and has nothing to do with financial constraints. Likewise, adults killing animals who suffer from a skin rash with the justification that they may infect humans is unforgivable, especially as treatment of such cases is easy and does not cost much. This violence is a major obstacle , as grave as the financial obstacles we face. We are constantly faced with sarcasm and indifference when we knock on doors in neighborhoods to spread awareness about children’s violent behavior towards animals. Some people accuse us of being disrespectful about the suffering Yemenis have been experiencing for the past decade. This attitude does not take into consideration that different forms of violence are interconnected. Many research studies have shown that people who abuse and kill animals have violent tendencies that are often harmful to the people around them.
A window for light
Currently, we have a modest shelter for animals that need monitoring around the clock. We hope that we can find support to expand the shelter so that we have the necessary capacity to add more cases. We also hope to collaborate with more veterinarians as well as mobilize and train more volunteers. We would like to be part of networks where we can find training opportunities for Yemeni veterinarians. Despite all the hardships that our country has been going through, and the obstacles our initiative has faced, we remain hopeful and determined to pursue our dream to rescue and protect as many animals as possible from torture and killing. Until now, we have succeeded in rescuing 50 animals out of a total of 60 that were reported to us. Unfortunately, we were unable to assist the other 10 because we did not have the capacity to trace or treat them. We would like to collaborate with local and international organizations that can support us to rescue more animals in Sana’a and in other governorates in Yemen.
One case that I always have in mind is of a female dog that was hit by a car, causing her eye to pop out of its socket. Shortly after the incident, we managed to support a surgery that gave the dog her sight back. Another case that I cannot forget concerned a number of horses suffering from deep wounds when their stables were bombed in an air strike that targeted the Air War College in Sana’a in December 2020. With the help of a medical team that believes in what we do, we were able to treat as many horses as possible despite the constant hovering of war planes over the site. These experiences are our window for light, that give us the hope and strength we need to go on.
 Ata’a is Arabic for unconditional giving.