Beirut: Upsetting images of sick and dumped cats and dogs surfaced last weekend following a Lebanese television’s report falsely claiming that house pets can transmit the coronavirus to humans.
Social media users shared hundreds of images that showed poisoned, injured or abandoned pets around street corners, on pavements and at waste dumps across Lebanon.
Last week, a Lebanese channel aired a report saying that owners risk contracting the coronavirus from their pets.
Since October 17, 2019, Lebanon has been facing a worsening economic crisis that has pushed the country into a state of turmoil, leading a number of pets to be abandoned or eliminated due to their owners’ financial burdens.
The coronavirus pandemic has further impacted the economy.
Amid an overflow of both fake and real news about COVID-19, the report triggered controversy among pet owners, prompting many to get rid of their pets by leaving them on the streets.
Annoyed social media users, activists and media personalities took to the television’s social media platforms to urge them to remove what they labelled an “incorrect and groundless” report, citing a World Health Organisation’s (WHO) announcement that there is no evidence animals can transmit the virus to humans.
In response to the outcry, the channel removed the report and broadcast a newer one urging people to refrain from abandoning their pets and from poisoning cats and dogs because they do not transmit coronavirus to humans.
A registered charity organisation that has worked for animal welfare and protection since 2008, Animals Lebanon, has been leading awareness campaigns urging people not to abandon their pets as there is no risk of transmission of COVID-19.
The Beirut-based organisation follows WHO’s recommendations, which states that there is no evidence pets transmit the virus to humans, said Maggie Shaarawi, Vice President of Animals Lebanon.
“The rate of people not keeping their pets went up after the unjustified fear of COVID-19. We urge people to actually adopt/foster pets in these tough times. Pets bring warmth and love to homes. We continuously receive cases of abuse, poisoned or sadly shot animals. Lately, there were reports from the public about poison found on the streets. Abandoning a pet on the street is abuse by itself as they are not used to living in such conditions and many of them end up injured or handicapped before we are able to reach them,” Shaarawi told Gulf News.
According to the Lebanese animal cruelty law that was passed in 2017, any person who abuses animals could face up to two years in jail and a maximum fine of 50 million Lebanese pounds (Dh122,000).
Lebanon’s Syndicate of Veterinary Doctors confirmed in a media statement that pets do not transmit coronavirus to humans.
“It is a very tough period for us and almost impossible to survive. We have been hit bad with crippling economy and now we have the cherry on top — COVID-19. No fund-raising events, everything is so expensive … no cash from banks to pay suppliers. More abused animals are coming in. In just two days we picked up six dogs and eight cats,” Shaarawi said when asked how they’re handling the situation.
She said they tend not to overcrowd their shelter for the animals’ welfare.
Animals Lebanon designed a foster programme for people not to incur any extra costs, according to Shaarawi, who said owners just need to give space and love to a rescued animal which is a perfect companion in quarantine.