BEIRUT: “This cat is very lucky to be alive,” said veterinarian Dr. Sheryl Hendrick after making a small incision into the belly of a sedated moggy. “This is something I’ve never seen before.”
Hendrick had been about to sterilize the cat, a process called spaying for females and neutering for males, when she discovered that not only was the female seven weeks pregnant, but also very close to death.
During an earlier pregnancy, she explained, the cat’s uterus ruptured, meaning that any future pregnancy would likely result in death for both mother and kittens. With the help of two veterinary students from the Lebanese University, Hendrick removed the fragmented uterus and the bodies of two tiny kittens. As their lungs weren’t sufficiently developed, Hendrick put aside uneasy ethical questions and euthanized the tiny creatures. Had the mother not been rescued from the streets by Lebanese animal welfare organization Animals Lebanon, she would never have made it through labor, let alone her kittens. “She will have a sore belly when she wakes up but she won’t miss almost having kittens,” Hendrick said.
With a grant from the World Society for the Protection of Animals, Animals Lebanon and Hendrick are throughout this week cooperating with local vets to help neuter and vaccinate tens of homeless cats and dogs in Beirut. To mark the 16th annual International Spay Day on Tuesday, the organization will humanely capture and treat over 80 street cats.
Lebanon has no animal welfare laws to protect or spay stray animals, and none to ensure that pet shops or owners take proper care of their animals. Many people buy pets without realizing the responsibilities that come with it, and some end up abandoning them. As cats and dogs are quick breeders, the result is thousands of strays on the streets of Beirut and elsewhere. “People created the problem of all these animals on the street, so it’s something that we need to sort out,” said Jason Mier, executive director of Animals Lebanon.
There are also several benefits to spaying and neutering. “For the health of the cat there are huge advantages,” said Hendrick, noting reduced risks of mammary glad tumors, uterus infections and diabetes. “If you spay and neuter a group they’re going to become much healthier- there are lots of skin problems here. There will also be less of that wailing that you hear a lot at night.” She urged all pet owners to seek out the procedure, saying it made pets more sociable, especially tom cats who will stop marking their “territory” across their owner’s apartment.
Hiba al-Hajj, a second-year veterinary student at the Lebanese University who is receiving training at the Animals Lebanon clinic, agrees that spaying or neutering is a humane way to deal with growing numbers of strays. “Although they are well fed by people they are not in good health and can spread diseases amongst cats and humans. The less on the streets, the better for everyone.”
Throughout February, Animals Lebanon is offering 50 percent discounts for people wishing to undertake the “TNR” process for their local stray, where the animal is trapped humanely, neutered or spayed to prevent future unwanted births, and then returned to the area where they were found.
“We’re here to solve a problem not create a problem,” said Hindriks, aware that some people have concerns over whether it is ethical to sterilize animals. Not everyone with a pet is totally convinced spaying or neutering is the right thing to do. “I got my cat [spayed] and now she’s really mean,” laughed 25-year-old Samar. “The procedure really changed her personality. She’s a totally different cat now.” A few other pet owners interviewed by The Daily Star agreed that they’d noticed changes in their pet’s behaviour, but most said the procedure was worth it. “My cat used to make the loudest meows when she was on heat,” said 29-year old Ronnie. “The neighbors were complaining a lot so it had to be done.”
As part of the month’s activities, Animals Lebanon is also holding presentations at schools to teach students about the advantages of owning pets and about spaying and neutering. The Wellspring School in Beirut has neutered all the cats living on campus and will work with Animals Lebanon to ensure the animals are healthy. The organization is also urging individuals to adopt one of the cats or dogs being cared for at their shelter. They can be bought fully vaccinated and spayed or neutered.