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Animals of War

By Lori Kalef, Program Manager

During times of conflict and war, the suffering of animals is often overlooked as the focus on the human implications and impact on society takes precedence. But make no mistake, animals are victims of this terror in many ways; in fact, it is believed that millions of more animals die from the causes of war than humans.

Animals suffer greatly in war-torn countries because the people who care for them must flee their homes without warning, leaving their dogs, cats, and livestock behind to fend for themselves. Horror stories of slow deaths from disease, starvation, injuries, and thousands more caught in the crossfire and killed by landmines.  Disrupted services like animal shelters, veterinary care, and even zoos leave an enormous void.  In the Afghan war during the 1990's, more than 75,000 animals were lost due to mines alone. In 2009, animals abandoned and caged at the Gaza zoo starved to death and those who didn't were shot point blank.

In 1989 some refugees fleeing Nicaragua during the Revolution made every attempt to bring their cattle and horses with them to the border of Costa Rica where thousands of refugees found asylum. However, discovering the last few hundred yards to the border were laced with landmines, they tied their livestock to trees, likely intending to come back for them at some point, but never did. Brave animal activists later went to the area to see if they could help. Many of the animals were dead due to starvation, and the few emaciated ones who were still alive survived on eating the bark off the trees that they were tied to. 

During times of terrible war and the resulting human flight, it is typical that no help for these animals can be found for thousands of square miles. No veterinarians, no animal control, no legal system to punish abusers, and any presence of police or military must focus on the immense human needs. There is no dog or cat food because human food is hard to find and there is no excess money to spend on helping animals. During a war, animal suffering grows, and these terrible conditions persist long afterward, even as the country begins to rebuild.

In the years since the civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, thousands of animals were left behind to endure immeasurable hardship and starvation. During the Iraq war, insurgents sometimes strap bombs to dogs and donkeys and blow them up as convoys pass by. Stray dogs and cats in Iraq and Afghanistan are still abused and killed on a daily basis. Reports from U.S. service members describe how these innocent strays are often stoned, cut, burned or poisoned. 

SPCA International is charged with helping the animal victims of war. Since 2008, our Operation Baghdad Pups: Worldwide has rescued over 700 dogs, cats and even one donkey befriended by our service members to the United States from combat zones around the world like Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria, Africa, Romania, Kosovo, Jordan, and Qatar.  SPCAI has built relationships with shelters and rescue groups on the ground in war-torn countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, helping these dedicated groups find financial resources that are otherwise non-existent. SPCAI is committed to expanding our efforts in these areas of the world by continuing to support rescue and relief organizations, shelters and dedicated animal advocates on the ground.