MANSOURIEH, Lebanon: Nancy, Greg, Dana and Taylor bask in the dwindling Saturday sun with their tongues and tails wagging as it set over the hills of Mansourieh. All four jump to attention as Kumar Salman approaches, a ragged pack of their comrades trailing behind him. “I herd them like sheep,” he laughs.
Tall and imposing, Salman commands the respect of some 380 dogs at the Beirut for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Mansourieh shelter, which he manages. His awe-inspiring rapport with the pack tempers the well of disheartening stories he tells about the country’s poor treatment of animals. And in the rare moments when Salman’s humanness leaves him unable to get through to the dogs, one of his second-in-command barks the right bark.
Dogs of all shapes and sizes occupy the property, chasing one another around the verdant environs, napping on a number of crude benches or simply following Salman. The ruffian bunch has not had an easy road. Some were street mongrels, hit by cars and abused by humans. Others, with purebred pedigrees, were jettisoned at the shelter by disinterested owners.
“We start every morning by going around [the property] and find the dogs who were left overnight,” Salman tells The Daily Star. “Once we found a purebred golden retriever about five months old, with the flu. He had been tied to a tree with an IV bag.”
Salman’s work at the shelter is part of a lifelong passion for living things. “When I was 5 years old, I used to feed ants, cats, everything. When I was a kid, people would say, ‘You’re insane, you’re obsessed with animals, you’re stupid and you’re wasting your money.’ It made me doubt myself,” he says.
The Beirut native started volunteering at the BETA shelter in 2005. When a landowner living abroad offered up some 1,000 square meters in Mansourieh for a dog sanctuary, the organization jumped at the offer.
Every morning as Salman rides his scooter from Hamra to the shelter, he leaves food at scattered locations for an additional 300 stray cats and dogs. “If I didn’t feed them, they would go out and get run over or shot, so I go to them,” he explains.
At the shelter, Salman is the unquestioned authority. A pair of growling dogs lower their ears and relax their jaws when Salman yells sternly. A small Chihuahua named Tucci follows closely at his heel, while Cesar, an overly friendly mutt, jumps on his chest leaving muddy marks on his long-ago sullied work jacket.
But Salman has some help. In addition to the five workers who feed the dogs and clean the property, there’s Taylor, the scruffy pack leader. Found with a bullet wound in Burj al-Barajneh, Taylor was rescued and sent to the shelter several months ago.
“For the first four or five days, he just watched everyone. On the sixth day, he was the leader,” Salman says, tenderly rubbing Taylor’s white and sandy colored coat.
According to their character, Salman separates the dogs into groups. “I follow their choice,” Salman explains of the canine social work.
“If this dog is playing with this dog, I’ll group them together. ... If this one is very dominant and this one is very dominant, I’ll separate them.”
Taylor mostly mingles throughout, as the canine extension of Salman’s authority. Both reinforce order at the shelter with a delicate balance of teeth-baring intimidation and decided benevolence. “As long as you don’t show fear or anger, any dog will accept you. But if you come with fear and anger, you lose control completely,” he says.
Still, Salman says that the shelter faces a number of formidable challenges. Each month, perhaps two or three dogs are adopted. “That’s if we’re lucky,” Salman says. “One goes, 10 come. The number is always increasing.”
“I’ve run out of names,” Salman laughs. “Now I’m choosing Japanese names.”
Most of the dogs require medical care, sometimes extensive, when they arrive at the shelter. A new arrival licks the stitches where his front right leg was amputated after he was found badly abused near the Kuwaiti Embassy.
“That’s what kills us, the medical bills. ... One operation, two operations, vaccines, castration, pills.”
“Now we’re begging for money,” Salman admits. Much of the shelter’s funds come from foreign donors.
“In the Lebanese mentality, environment and animals are seen as something useless. People don’t even bother to listen,” Salman said.
But for him, the shelter is home. “This is my life. I find myself here.”