A Travel Documentary
Colin Tennant is the first Animal Behaviour Practitioner to visit Lebanon in the Middle East since the end of the recent civil war. He also visited Tyre, Sidon and Beirut during the more recent resurgence of fighting between Israel and Hisbollah.
One of my reasons for visiting Lebanon was that I had received an invitation from a Lebanese friend whom I had previously helped with his animals. Whilst there I was able to take the opportunity to look at the pet cat situation and to assess the plight of the animals and especially the dogs of Lebanon in the aftermath of war.
In Part One I reported on what I had found out about the mountain dogs of Lebanon and now I am going to tell you what sort of town dogs I found and particularly what kind of professional canine services are available in Lebanon.
I visited Dr Kassab, the senior partner in a veterinarian practice located in the suburbs or Beirut and we sat outside the kennel area drinking tea in the warm sun discussing the difficulties faced by the veterinarians there. Dr Kassab has an assistant called Dr Hadge who is fluent in English, Russian and French. We discussed what they and some of their colleagues were trying to do in order to establish a veterinary and pet animal authority which could be run on similar lines to the British and French systems. It seems that the war has made it impossible to get any system in operation with the result that chaos ensued throughout Lebanon. Apparently it is possible to buy drugs from a chemist as if it were cough medicine and anyone can then proceed to advertise their services to the public. Animal care is not on the Government’s list of priorities as they are trying first of all and understandably so, to rebuild the infrastructure of their country.
I had seen the effect of this situation when my friend Adeeb needed a vet for one of his German Shepherds. The housekeeper had arranged for Dr Hadge to attend the house but when I arrived, in the middle of a heavy snowstorm, he had not turned up and the dog was obviously very ill. As I was concerned about the dog’s condition I enlisted the help of my Lebanese driver, Joe, and we drove around to try to find help. We travelled through several mountain towns in the snow and seeing some signs outside nice looking pet shop type premises enquired about veterinary assistance which was duly promised. It never occurred to me that somebody advertising as a doctor of animal medicine might not be qualified at all. The so called vet never did show up but Dr Hadge did and treated the German Shepherd successfully. Dr Hadge is a true professional with immense skill and I have seen nothing in Britain better. Let us hope, for everyone’s sake, that he and his colleagues manage to bring about the changes they desire in the not too distant future.
The Lebanese Kennel Club
Another of Dr Kassab’s ideas is to start some kind of a Kennel Club that will provide a similar service to dog owners as the British one but on a more pragmatic and simple scale. I could not answer all their questions but I managed to explain how dog shows, agility, obedience and field trials were held in Britain and how they were organised. Dr Kassam appeared equally impressed with the regulation and the work involved and was equally determined to start such an organisation in Lebanon.
Downtown Beirut has a varied population ranging from a few very rich to mostly poor and very poor. In spite of this you will see very few miserable faces; most are busy and smiling and show great resilience. The pedigree dogs like Boxers, Pekingese and German Shepherds are kept in lavish style by their correspondingly well off owners, who live in sumptuous apartments or large beautiful houses with gardens. There are a few mongrels and a some crosses of the sheepdog variety from the mountains.
During my journeys along the busy streets, typical of many Arab countries, I found the time to study my surroundings. The city has some very plush districts and one massive area which reminds one of the Square Mile in London. In contrast though, there is no building left standing in this area. But there is a new city rising from the ruins, making opportunities for many cultural and business developments. The busy part of Beirut is predominantly Muslim but there are also Christian and Armenian areas. The latter being noted for their business acumen. They dealt in gold, silver and electronic goods. there was also the occasional sight of a dog as it appeared from behind a house or disappeared down a narrow lane between the war damaged buildings.
Animal behaviour Practitioners are unknown in Lebanon and any problems encountered in dog behaviour had to be dealt with by Dr Kassab and Dr Hadge. It used to be like that here in Britain before dog trainers took over that sort of work. I explained that in Britain Animal Behaviour Practitioners or Counsellors were still relatively new but their work was developing successfully on the whole; their presence was proving beneficial not only to the general public but also to the veterinary surgeons.
Whilst with Dr Hadge at the surgery, I consulted in canine behaviour with a man who was buying a German Shepherd puppy for his sixteen year old son, Ali. He had bought the puppy to encourage his son to go out and to become more confident in meeting people. A good example of dogs helping humans to socialise, I suppose. I did point out all the ramifications of dog ownership, the life expectancy of dogs and the commitment needed. As he had already purchased the puppy my consultation also covered house training, teething and puppy stages, what behaviour to expect and how to deal with it over the next twelve months. As a long time fan and breeder of German Shepherds I thoroughly enjoyed offering my advice and sharing my personal experiences.
Later that day I was an observer during the surgery with the usual number of vaccinations, worming sessions and anti biotic prescriptions. A Cocker Spaniel puppy was being medically examined; the little yelp he gave meant that he had encountered Dr Hadge’s vaccination programme! Lebanon was a French colony until recently and this puppy had been imported from France like many pedigree dogs of its kind. It was good enough to be in Crufts dog show.
Unfortunately the larger breeds are becoming more popular in Lebanon because it adds to the middle eastern man’s macho image. I hope that by leaving behind written advice and introducing the first “behaviours”, which are now working in Lebanon, I have redirected some people to more suitable breeds and some trainers will use my guidelines for dog welfare.
The dogs of Beirut are very lucky. If they use Dr Kassab’s veterinary practice they will have the equipment and facilities equivalent to many West End practices in London.
Dr Hadge would occasionally pick up a huge veterinary medical book in Russian for reference and then translate it into Arabic. A lady and her little Yorkie Terrier and I were duly impressed when he then translated it into English for my benefit.
When I travelled down to Tyre and Sidon I was in the area near the Israeli border where more than one hundred and fifty people were killed recently by Israeli artillery and war planes. These towns are mainly Muslim. I only saw a few dogs in the town but they were more noticeable again, though mainly of the sheep dog type, as I approached the farming countryside. When we reached the famous sea fortress at Sidon I went to the pay booth to gain entry with Bassam, my guide and interpreter and suddenly our way was blocked by a white mongrel bitch laden with milk but without her puppies. She growled fiercely at Bassam who fled with the little mongrel bitch yapping behind him. He cried out “Stop it, dog” in his best English but I pointed out that if the dog understood any language it would be his own. Fear, it seems, prevents rational thought. I knelt down and within a few minutes the bitch begrudgingly agreed to let us pass. Bearing in mind that we had paid it was indeed very kind of her, especially as the man in the booth did not seem to care one way or the other. The ancient fortress, predating the Crusades, was certainly well worth our visit.
Bassam and I travelled next to Northern Lebanon to the major town of Tripoli, which was his home. This town has a deep rooted history and the Ottoman Empire’s domination of this area for such a long period can be seen in the local architecture. Near the souk, the local market place, one very large German Shepherd look alike, in fine condition, fully erect and with the colour and physique of a Dingo barked at me. This was to show me that he was in charge of this territory. I had no qualms about showing deference but fortunately he was attached to a long rope in a front garden.
Our next stop was in the north of Beirut at the famous Grotto, set in the mountains, where we saw some of the largest caves in the world containing enormous stalagmites and stalactites. The caves are nearly a mile long and are truly one of the wonders of the world well worth a visit for any traveller. We then drove south again and came upon a huge Bedouin camp or shanty type town. The dwellings are primitive huts and the waterproof material which is thrown over the top is held down by an abundance of tyres.
The Bedouin seemed to have a darker skin colour and most local people do not care too much for them as they consider them to be rogues. I would like to have stayed to chat but I was not welcomed. Whenever I got too near the dogs would bark to warn me off. They were everywhere, tied to various boxes and barrels for shelter. They were a real mixture of animals but I could discern a general look of cream coloured, short coat, long legs and pricked up ears, which is common among desert dogs.
A little girl ran up to me smiling and I asked her in my broken Arabic if I could take a few pictures of her dog. She nodded consent and started to ask me lots of questions. At this point Bassam was safely ensconced two hundred metres behind me in his car. He thought I was mad to approach so many dogs in such a large encampment. I must admit I had a few misgivings so when my progress was barred by a group of large dogs with teeth glistening indicating a no-
My trip was coming to an end and I thanked all the Lebanese who had made my stay so fascinating. Without reservation I would recommend this beautiful country but most of all its people who are warm and welcoming. One day I will return to Lebanon but for now I hope the pedigree and cross breeds of that country have a good future. If any person reading this article thinks they can help in establishing breed clubs and other structures in Lebanon then please write to me and I will forward the information to Doctors Kassab and Hadge.