Pets have a special place in the hearts of their owners. They provide affection and companionship, reducing stress levels and alleviating loneliness. For people forced to flee, a pet can be a vital source of comfort.
Here are some stories of refugees in Lebanon who have developed special relationships with cats far away from their homeland.
I have a cat called Basbous, and he has been with me for two months. I didn’t want to give him a clichéd name, I wanted to give him a special name – that’s why I chose Basbous. No-one here gives their cats this name.
Basbous likes to play with my toys and the dress I wear. He also likes to play with the rosary. I feed him mortadella, and his favourite food is chicken. Whenever I go out, he waits for me by the door, or follows me around the neighbourhood. And when I come back, he runs towards me and starts winding his tail around my legs and nuzzling me. I always miss him whenever I am out.
He is mostly attached to me and my mother. I feel like he is more than a friend, he is like my brother. If we go back to Syria, I want to take him with me.
– Leen*, 10, a Palestinian Syrian refugee in Lebanon
I decided to raise cats at home to make my two sons feel better. They suffer from mental health problems. Raising cats at home is expensive, but my children’s happiness is a priority for me, no matter how much it costs.
My son Nabil* is obsessed with animals – he would enjoy living in a jungle. He also wants me to get dogs for him, and once he asked me to get him a bear!
Raising kittens is more challenging than raising adult cats because the kittens need more care and attention. After raising a good number of cats, I have acquired a lot of experience. I watch YouTube videos about cats and birds. Once I had a competition with my neighbour here: he made an electronic egg hatcher and I made a manual one. Mine succeeded and his didn’t. I am fascinated by everything related to animals.
– Samira*, 35, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon
I love animals because I have no friends here. My cats are like my siblings. I enjoy playing with them, and they mean everything to me. It is different here in Lebanon from my homeland Syria. I have been through many things here, that’s why I cannot go and play with other children, and that’s why I like animals.
The cats follow me everywhere. I play with them with a string and ball, and give them a shower.
I had a white cat before, but he was stolen. I raised him from a kitten and used to feed him milk from a baby’s bottle. I cried so much when he was stolen. He was everything to me.
– Rami*, 13, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon
One night I was about to drive my car and I heard a cat meowing. It wouldn’t stop, so I got out of the car and saw my son, Ahmad*, attached to one of the tyres. I picked him up and took him home. The cat was warning me that something was wrong. She saved my son, and since then I have always raised cats.
I love them like my children and am very affectionate with them. It is something I can’t explain in words. I love taking care of them, feeding them and cleaning them. I consider it a charity deed – God rewards us by taking care of the cats. They are a part of my family and make me feel better emotionally.
If I go back to Syria, I will give them to someone I trust to take care of them. I don’t think I would be able to take them with me to Syria – crossing the borders with them would not be easy.
– Hashem*, 38, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon
I have two adult cats and five kittens. I raise them and I worry a lot about them. Especially the mother because she breastfeeds her kittens and gets hungry very quickly. I feed her and give her water. Whenever I find a cat on my way, I feed her and pet her.
When I wake up, the cats run toward me, so I feed them and pet them. I love taking care of them.
When I come back from school, they wait for me by the door and walk between my legs.
– Ahmad*, 10, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon
I raised Antar from a kitten. His mom gave birth to him in this building where I live, and now he is two years old. Whenever I go into the neighbourhood, he follows me. He eats whatever we cook, but he doesn’t like food with tomatoes. The neighbours here like him and get him food as well.
I am very attached to him. Some people complain that I raise a cat at home, saying that it is a dirty animal and will transfer diseases to me, but I don’t listen to them.
If I go back to Syria, I will leave him with my friend to take care of him. I don’t want to risk him being caught at the checkpoint. I will always remember him, and God will put other good people in his way to take care of him.
– Nawal*, 56, a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon
*Names have been changed for protection reasons.