ALEPPO: Mohammed Alaa Al-Jaleel, a 42-year-old ambulance driver known famously as the ‘cat man of Aleppo’, proves himself again as a superhero to his feline friends in northwest Syria.
This time, Al-Jaleel is taking in the cats that survived the Feb. 6 Turkiye-Syria earthquake.
His town Jinderes - north of Aleppo - was one of the areas badly hit by the quake, and many of the cats were either separated from owners, abandoned, wounded or dead. The exact numbers remain unknown; however, 2 rescued by Al-Jaleel have died, and 3 were found with severe injuries.
In the last month, al-Jaleel and his team have rescued over 40 cats from quake-hit areas and transferred them to his ‘Cat Man’ animal shelter in Aleppo, where they are being sheltered safely with necessary medical care, vaccinations and food.
The team faced difficulties during initial rescue efforts as the cats were found in trauma from the quake’s aftershocks.
“The cats were extremely frightened.”
“We were not able to catch them as they were scratching us. Some of the cats couldn’t be caught on the same day, so we had to revisit the same site over and over again for 2 to 3 days to catch them,” Al-Jaleel tells Arab News.
The tragedy upon tragedy inflicted upon human life in Syria has likewise impacted the country’s cats and other animals. Al-Jaleel earned his nickname, ‘cat man of Aleppo’ in 2016 - during the peak of the Syrian civil war - when he would rescue, treat, and care for over 100 homeless cats.
Al-Jaleel notes that similar to the conflict, the quake has displaced people and left felines behind alone, unable to fend for themselves.
“Evidently, cats have always depended on humans. As the latter have quit the area, leaving it deserted, cats were greatly affected by hunger and disease, which will eventually lead to their death.”
Ammar Hamami, a 27-year-old veterinarian who works alongside Al-Jaleel in the Cat Man centre, described the rescue mission to Arab News.
“First things first, we provide the cats on the site with first aid services before bringing them to our clinic.
“After being admitted to the clinic, we provide the cats with appropriate treatment. Some might suffer from bruises, while others might have minor injuries, etc. Many are the types of injuries we have witnessed and thus, we are providing the animals with utmost treatment services, in addition to isolating them until they are finally recovered.”
Al-Jaleel told Arab News that a month later since the earthquake first hit, the rescue mission is coming to a close as the team is no longer finding any more neglected cats on quake-torn streets.
His ‘Cat Man’ shelter houses more than 130 cats, relying on the outside world to help sustain its essential services, such as the built-in veterinary clinic.
“I am receiving help to keep going with this shelter’s mission, to feed the animals and treat them. They help me by sending medicine and dry food from Turkiye,” he says.
Al-Jaleel has, in the last 10 years, alongside his main job as an ambulance driver, established several animal rescue shelters in Aleppo, Idlib, Azaz, and, most recently, in Al-Bab.’