Lebanon News

A dog’s day at Beirut’s Hippodrome

BEIRUT: The fourth annual BETA Spring Dog Festival culminated with a dog show over the weekend, when the Beirut Hippodrome was filled with hundreds of dogs and their owners, entering into a wide range of categories.

Entrants paid a $10 fee to enter their pet into each category – from “Best dressed,” to “Most obedient” and “Best lookalike” (as compared to the dog’s owner) – helping raise money for the animal welfare charity BETA.

Beirut for the Ethical Treatment of Animals “rescues animals in life-threatening or dangerous situations. Unfortunately we don’t have the resources at the moment to help every stray animal on the street although we wish we could,” explained MacKenzie Lewis, the welfare charity’s communications officer.

Saturday was the third and final day of the festival, with live music and events for kids running at the Hippodrome, one of Beirut’s only green spaces, since Thursday.

As well as raising much needed funds, the open-air festival was also aimed at recruiting new members to BETA – there are currently around 360.

Nathalie Semaan, a BETA member, said she loves the dog festival as, “Normally we see very horrible things, so it’s great to have a day which is just about celebrating dogs.”

She referred to the many rescues BETA has been involved in, including a recent one in south Lebanon.

“We had a call to say that a dog had been shot in the head, but we found him and took him to our shelter,” she said. Kratos was then adopted by a woman in the U.S. and last month moved to his permanent home there.

Semaan, who is Lebanese but grew up abroad, joined BETA after she moved to Lebanon and saw how badly animals were often treated.

“I started rescuing dogs independently at first and then joined BETA. I wasn’t going to sit quietly any more and just watch what was happening to dogs here.”

The BETA shelter in Mansourieh has around 250 dogs, all looking for homes, and some of the animals entered into different categories of Saturday’s dog show.

Aida, disabled from the waist down, is a shelter dog, and won the “Best Disabled” dog category to huge applause.

The lack of large open spaces in Beirut makes it hard to own a dog in the city. The dog festival was designed as a rare opportunity for dog owners to get together and enjoy their pets.

“In Beirut you don’t really see people walking their dogs anywhere so it’s great to see people all together,” Lewis said. “The dog show is just a great opportunity to introduce people to the work that we do at BETA.”

Annich and Kamal Nassar, the proud owners of Peewee, a 12-year-old American cocker spaniel entered into the “Best senior” category, had attended the festival on both Friday and Saturday.

“We’re here for Peewee to enjoy himself. Where we live in Sin al-Fil there are spaces to walk him, but it’s a great atmosphere here and it’s nice to see so many other dogs.”

Jasmine Karam, 12, only joined BETA in the last month, but she rescued her first dog last year.

Walking home one day with her mother they saw a dog being abandoned; he was dropped off on the side of the road as his owner drove away.

“He ran after the car, he didn’t want to be abandoned.”

Not quite sure of his breed, Jasmine thinks he is a German Shepherd mix. They have called him Lucky, as he has only brought luck into their lives since they found him. The family have also rescued two puppies that they found abandoned, but they were deemed too boisterous for the dog show.

Lucky entered into the “Friendliest dog” category.

As the MC of the dog show said, “This is the only place in the country right now where you can have a good day with your dog and not have a hard time about it.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 13, 2011, on page 3.

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