When northerners fled their homes during the recent violence, some 60 volunteers were combing the abandoned neighborhoods for the animals left behind.
The members of the Ahava animal rights organization rescued approximately 260 dogs and 500 cats, as well as hundreds of other animals from probable death by starvation. They distributed thousands of bowls of water and almost 11 tons of dry food during the war, and are continuing to do so, days after the cease-fire.
"People have returned home but still didn't pick up the dogs," said Tamara More, Ahava's volunteer general manager on Thursday, so the organization's people are continuing to work to save as many lost and abandoned pets as possible.
The situation was desperate, More said, adding that some animals were left behind in a way that amounted to severe abuse.
"In one case, we found an old German shepherd who had shed half his hair due to malnutrition and stress," she said angrily. "In another case, an owner didn't want to bother when his dog got run over by a car, so he just left the dog in the street."
Both animals made quick recoveries after being collected by Ahava volunteers, and were made available for adoption.
The volunteers complained about the "unbelievable heartlessness" of some owners, who left their animals to die in locked, overheated rooms, but said their primary concern was to find good homes for the rescued animals and to care for the thousands of animals still wandering the Galilee.
"We're not going to press charges, even in clear cases of abuse," More said. She added that anyone who knew of a suffering animal, even its owner, should "just call us."
"We are vaccinating, spaying and neutering every animal," she said. "Almost all those people who abandoned their dogs failed to vaccinate or neuter their animals. We need to stop this vicious cycle of more kittens and puppies, which ends in painful deaths."
The most urgent need is for people willing to adopt some 800 dogs and cats. But, More said, the organization would only give an animal to someone "who understands that adopting a dog or cat is like adopting a family member."
Concerned for the animals abandoned in the then-deserted villages of south Lebanon, the organization asked Lebanese authorities if they could enter the area. They were rebuffed by locals who said they'd rather have their dogs die than be treated by an organization based in Israel.
Ahava volunteers were "sad and disgusted" by the sentiments expressed by the Lebanese. The organization issued a press release reminding the parties in the conflict that "dogs have no nation, no religion and no political opinion."
"We did take some dogs brought back from Lebanon by soldiers," who took pity on them, More said.
Ahava can be contacted via its English-language hot line, (03) 644-6777. The organization "desperately needs" donations to cover the cost of food, medicine and housing for animals in need.
Volunteers have spent some NIS 90,000 of their own money, and still need to pay for the veterinary checkups.
Ahava also needs volunteers: drivers to transport animals from the North to the Tel Aviv area, a spokesperson and someone to work the phones. Donations of plastic bowls and animal food are accepted gratefully.
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