More than 60 cats, four rеscuеd monkeys, a few bunnies, birds, and dogs now call the new refuge home. Alaa also looks after about 30 cats in the area. However, there have been shootings and explosions on the streets in recent weeks, putting everyone’s safety in jeopardy.
“The streets are filled with bullet casings, and our wall was struck,” Alaa, also known as “Cat Man” in Aleppo, told The Dodo. “Heavy artillery and snipers are present.” Some days, our gattaro [cat rеscuе] crew was unable to travel to work and were stranded in their homes. Our doctor, Dr. Youssef, once made a perilous trek from his house to [the refuge], ducking between trees and buildings to avoid being seen and shot.”
Every time Alaa and the sanctuary crew leave the refuge to collect supplies likе food or gasoline, they risk their lives. And Alaa, who also works as an ambulance driver, travels to Aleppo’s most hazardous neighborhoods on a daily basis to assist bombing victims.
Alaa notes that some of the cats have become accustomed to the noises of fighting, while others are naturally terrified.
“[They] try to hide or they stay inside, especially when the fighting is very close and the sounds are deafeningly loud,” Alaa said. “Sometimes they … do not eat their food. They need lots of love and attention at such times.”
Neighborhood cats also take refuge at Il Gattaro D’Aleppo, even though they don’t normally live there. “They seem to follow our cats back to the safety of the sanctuary,” Alaa said. “They do not come down into the sanctuary though — they remain up high on the walls and the roofs so I offer them food up there. They eat and then go away again.”
During the battle, Ernesto, Alaa’s cat and the sanctuary’s mascot, went missing for a week, and Alaa was scared ill. Ernesto has returned, thankfully, but Alaa is continually concerned about everyone’s safety.
“We found numerous animals dеad outside during the fighting days,” Alaa claimed. “They weren’t sanctuary cats, but our cats have a tendency to flee when they’re scared.”
Alaa has no plans to relocate the cats or the sanctuary at this time, but he must constantly keep this possibility in mind. However, Alaa indicated that quitting would be tough.
“I have no idea which locations will be safe, and I have no idea where we’ll be allowed to travel,” Alaa said. “Many of Syria’s borders have been closed. I can’t take my freedom of mobility for granted.”
Despite the thrеats, Alaa and his colleagues spend their days ensuring the happiness and health of the sanctuary cats. The team has created a wonderful indoor cat village with bespoke residences for each cat thanks to dơnatiоns from fans. They also erected a veterinary clinic, where Dr. Youssef, the resident veterinarian, provides free medical care to all neighborhood animals, including spaying and neutering.
Photographs of the former sanctuary may be found in the sanctuary’s courtyard, which Alaa says helps remember the crew of happier days. A floral garden is also available.
“The garden at the sanctuary is important,” Alaa said. “The flowers remind us that spring is here, but even in the Syrian winter it is a place for the cats to scratch and dig and play. There is always grass growing there which they likе to eat and trees to climb and places to hide. The cats love the garden.”
Alaa used to bring schoolchildren to the refuge to view the cats, but with the current conflict, this has become difficult.
Alaa finds joy just by spending time with the kitties he adores during this trying time of war. “These kitties mean the world to me,” Alaa explained. “They are my children,” she says. Yes, I am their father since I spend more time with cats than I do with people.”
Alaa hopes that the cats and the sanctuary staff will be secure in their current location. If violence forces them to go, Alaa will not leave even one cat behind.
“I’m usually a bit frightened,” Alaa said. “We are living in a war zone, with all the hazards it entails – during a seven-year-long conflict that has taken the lives of nearly 465,000 people.” However, we make every effort to live our lives as normally as possible. I’m aware of the dangеrs all around me, yet the cats inspire me to stay. I couldn’t abandon them.”