Recently, the abuse of a sea turtle on Rmeileh beach made headlines, prompting a discussion of the protection of endangered creatures and general animal violence. The animal was reportedly beaten on the head which resulted in the crushing of its skull, just so beach-goers could take selfies with it.

This type of behavior isn’t unique to Lebanon, with selfie attempts resulting in the deaths of a dolphin in Argentina, a shark in the Dominican Republic, and a shark in Florida. What makes matters worse for Lebanese wildlife, though, is its lack of effective measures against animal cruelty.

Animals Lebanon has since rescued the animal, with help from the Ministry of Agriculture and the Civil Defense, and it’s on its way to recovery. While certain areas may be protected to ensure endangered sea turtles nest, the lack of effective protection prove that while laws must be in place, we need to give every effort to working with what we do have.

Rania Dabaghi, BETA board member and volunteer coordinator, gave us some tips on using the resources we have to rock the boat.



1. Use an influencer



You might not like it, but Lebanon is the land of wasta, or connections. Using someone with some clout might be the most effective way to make change in the short term. In one case, BETA was able to save starving animals from a pet shop by using a political influencer’s sway in the region. Without this, said Dabaghi, they would not have been able to gain access.

In 2012, the group found dozens of dead dogs in an abandoned open air puppy mill. The dogs were chained and died, bodies decaying under the sun— the video footage is gruesome. In this case, BETA filed a complaint and invoked two breeches. One accused the owners of abusing their own dogs—BETA’s lawyers crafted an argument which uses an article banning abuse of your own pets.

Still, while the mill owners had to pay penalties, the costs were grossly unbalanced. While BETA paid about $3,000 in legal fees, the mill owners had to pay 200,000 L.L. for their crimes.

“He was hassled,” said Dabaghi, rather than really paying the price for his actions. Still, she hopes that cases like this can set a precedent.

“If the law changes and the penalties increase, what we did would set a precedent…then we would have done something good for the animal cause.”




2. Use a different perspective



Unfortunately, there is a reductive and counterproductive discourse governing the discussion of animal rights. ‘People are dying and you want to talk about animals?’ might be a comment you’ll hear from a cross-section of the population.

Dabaghi suggests putting a human perspective on complaints of animal abuse. Unfortunately, calling the police on a neighbor whose dog is barking and potentially being neglected or abused will probably not be met with any real enthusiasm.

“You have to call it noise pollution,” she said. Rather than telling the authorities that the dog is being abused, you can complain about the noise and hopefully force owners to bring their dogs inside or to take better care of them. Of course, there are never guarantees.

“We don’t know if they will treat him better, but this is the best that can be done. The more people complain, the more the police will get used to it. Nothing will change if we remain silent.”



3. Use social media



While sea turtles are protected creatures, house pets like dogs and cats are not. While footage of an abused turtle was met with Animals Lebanon’s rescue of the creature, the case is more complex for domesticated animals. Using the tools you have on-hand, like cell phones, can make make an impact if done persistently and collectively.

“People would think twice before doing anything,” she said. “They might think, who might be taking a video now? We will be eliminating part of the abuse if everybody would move and do something.”



4. Don’t be a mere witness



Still, recording and presenting abuse after the fact is not enough. In fact, you’re also an accomplice to the abuse by not trying to stop it.

In cases like the abuse of a chick in a school in Lebanon, or the abuse of animals on a university campus, Dabaghi said that while those captured on video are viewed as the main actors, it is also the person behind the camera who is as responsible.

Coming to BETA or other similar organizations after the fact is not the same as standing up to the abuse.

“We are not 911 in the States—even the police are not the 911 of the States,” she said, highlighting the limited power of institutions in Lebanon.




5. Take action consistently



Being vocal once is not enough. Dabaghi is of the mind that repetitive, collective action has the ability to build and make change.

Whether it’s recording the plate number of someone who has violated a law or convention, reporting to the Ministry of Agriculture, or calling the police to complain about noise, there needs to be a consistent effort by citizens.

“It’s not one NGO which will change the world,” she said, “it is a common effort.”

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