During Hurricane Katrina, Linda Nealon braved the streets of New Orleans to rescue household pets. That experience gave her the courage to go to the Middle East to lend a hand at Lebanon's only animal shelter.
"I had been in New Orleans rescuing animals there and saw how stressful it was and how desperate the need was and feel really lucky to be here," she said.
She came to Beirut from New York City, on her own dime, to rescue innocent victims of war and to work with the organization Beirut for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which four women founded several years ago.
The workers at the organization were surprised when the American arrived. One of the founders, Helena Hesayne, let Nealon stay at her home while Nealon helped them in their rescue work.
The volunteer-run shelter was located in South Beirut, the neighborhood that took the brunt of the Israeli bombing.
"Thank God we rescued these dogs from South Beirut before they leveled the place," said shelter volunteer Mona Khoury.
"There was a missile one night that fell 400 meters from the shelter, and we found shrapnel inside the cages," said Joelle El Massirh, a volunteer at the shelter.
"We had to move them with our cars. In each car we had three dogs, and there were bombs," said Margo Sharawi, another volunteer at the shelter. "You could hear the bombs, and we kept saying, 'Please don't bomb us.'"
The animals were traumatized when they were rescued from the streets, where some were sitting by the rubble, waiting for their owners to come home.
"They're innocent. They don't know what's happening to them. They can't run away from the bombs," Hesayne said.
Two of the dogs, named Thelma and Louise, were found trapped in an apartment one week after their owners were killed. Others have lost their families for less tragic reasons.
One dog belonged to a Saudi family who were in Beirut on vacation when the war broke out. They left, gave the dog to the doorman of the building where they were staying, and the doorman put the dog out on the street.
Nealon went to the war zone to help save these animals from trauma and distress.
"They've been through bombing, noise that worries them being on the street," Nealon said. "There are three-legged animals, animals without eyes … and they're all doing well."
They have nothing to do with the politics of this war. But they suffer, too, a little less, though, thanks to Linda Nealon's help.
Nealon now heads back to the United States, to find sanctuary for the pets in Utah. About 150 rescued dogs will be up for adoption, and you can find more information by clicking here http://animals.beirut.com/. Or you can send an e-mail to Animals@beirut.com.
When asked if she ever thought she would end up in a war zone, Nealon said no.
"And it's a little frightening, having bombs crack on all night long," she said.. "But it's a pleasure to be here."