Person of the Week: Linda Nealon
Aug. 11, 2006 — -- 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.