If “the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated” as Mahatma Gandhi once claimed, then Lebanon has just taken one giant leap in the right direction through the approval of an animal welfare and protection law.

The non-governmental organization and animal-rights group Animals Lebanon is to thank for their fierce determination for over six years pushing for the law to be recognized. Its president, Lana El-Khalil, recounts a period during 2009 during which the NGO rescued an entire zoo of animals and was sending the last of its former inhabitants off at the airport, only to stumble upon a severe case of animal abuse at the very airport’s cargo bay. “We closed down a zoo and rescued all its animals, but it hit us that animal abuse was an open wound with no end in sight, and if we did not work on solving the problem from the roots, our efforts would be almost meaningless,” says El-Khalil of the ordeal. That day, they resolved to create an animal welfare law that would efficiently ensure the protection of animals in Lebanon from maltreatment and abuse.

(Image via Animals Lebanon)

In 2010, after intense research on regional laws and international conventions and making decisions concerning the best way to go about promulgating an animal welfare law, Animals Lebanon created the first draft and distributed it to both the Ministry of Agriculture and to international animal welfare organizations. The campaign was launched in 2011 through a press conference held at parliament under the patronage of Agriculture Minister Hussein Hajj Hassan. Animals Lebanon met regularly with the Ministry of Agriculture for a year, continuously reviewing the law, and the final version was perfected by 2013 and made available to the public. Under the new Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb, the campaign was continued, submitted to the Council of Ministers, and finally approved on February 4, 2015.

“The previous and current ministers have all been extremely supportive and involved from an early stage,” says Jason Miers, the executive director of Animals Lebanon, who is not only thankful for the government’s support but for the unwavering dedication of Lebanese animal-lovers as well as media exposure. He told Beirut.com the law would have been much more difficult to pass without a campaign backed by enthusiastic and committed supporters.

The comprehensive law makes note of rules and regulations surrounding the safety and comfort of animal enclosures and habitats, proper enclosure size, the provision of adequate food, water and heating, quarantine measures for sick animals and plans of action to aid animals in case of disasters, plus proper transportation methods and a ban on certain acts such as circuses, dog-fighting, and other instances of abuse.

One frequently-repeated argument in Lebanon is that there are more pressing matters in our politically-unstable, poverty-stricken, refugee-flooded, sect-divided country to worry about than animal rights, “but you cannot deny that there are social, health and economic benefits that come from laws like this; that’s why there are international conventions about issues such as these, because they affect human beings directly,” says Miers. He cites the recent slaughterhouse controversy as one example of the impact animal maltreatment can have on the health of people. In November, Beirut Governor Ziad Chebib ordered shut the Beirut slaughterhouse after inspectors found it failed to meet health and safety standards. This development emerged after Health Minister Wael Abu Faour announced the names of restaurants across Lebanon selling contaminated meat, much of it sourced from the Beirut slaughterhouse.

(Image via Animals Lebanon)

Miers also explains that the law does not aim to purposely and mercilessly throw people in jail. “Our goal is not to create some sort of police-force looking for people to get in trouble,” he says. "We want to go to individuals and companies to explain what the law and its benefits are, and ensure that they have the ability to follow it, but we also want to be able to take action if they don’t want to comply.” The animal welfare law, for example, would not ban pet shops or zoos, but would draw out ethical standards for managing them.

While the animal protection and welfare law has been approved, there remains more work to be done. The next step is transferring the law to parliament so that committees can review it, improve it if needed, and vote on it, after which it can become a legally-enforceable law. While El-Khalil admits that “there is still a long journey to tread,” she urges supporters to help them continue pushing for the enforcement of the law and “continue spreading the message of a civil and progressive Lebanon.”

Animals Lebanon is currently collecting signatures on their website calling for the enactment of the animal welfare and protection law as soon as possible.

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