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02/10/2016, 10:00

“Cat man of Aleppo” cares for hundreds of abandoned felines in the war-torn city

The Syrian city of Aleppo is probably the most dangerous place to be living in right now, but while many of its residents have left their homes to escape the war, one man has remained behind to care for the hundreds of abandoned and stray cats.

Known as “the cat man of Aleppo”, Mohammad Alaa Jaleel has been taking care to stray felines ever since people planning to leave the city started leaving their pets in his care, knowing he loved cats. As the fighting and bombing intensified, more and more frightened animals started approaching him for food and protection, and he was always more than happy to provide them with both.  Mohammed says he started taking care of about 20 to 30 cats, but the number of feline refugees at his walled sanctuary has now swollen to over one hundred.

“Some people just left them with me knowing that I love cats. I was surprised. There were about twenty to thirty cats. About a year later, there were more than a hundred.” The Syrian cat lover welcomes the strays in his sanctuary, feeding them bowls of rice, and says that he is prepared to offer care and attention to any cat that needs them.

In the touching BBC segment, Mohammand Alaa Jaleel recalled the heartbreaking moment when a young girl came to leave her cat with him before moving to Turkey with her family. “One time a little girl brought me a cat. Her parents wanted to go abroad. So they came here — they knew there was a cat sanctuary here. The girl had brought the cat up since she was a kitten. She cried as she handed her over to me and they left the country,” he said. “I’ve been taking photos of the cat and sending them to her in Turkey. She begs me, ‘Send me photos of her. I miss her. Please promise to return my cat back to me when we come back.'”

The “cat man” said that ever since his human friends left Aleppo to escape the war, the cats have become his only friends in the city, and he would never dream of leaving them behind. “Someone who has mercy in their heart for people has mercy for every living thing,” he says. “I said I’ll stay with them no matter what happens.”

And as if his commitment to protecting the abandoned cats of Aleppo wasn’t heartwarming enough, you should know that Mohammand Alaa Jaleel is also actively involved in human rescue operations throughout the besieged city. Photos posted on the Facebook page Nobel Peace Price to Alaa show him rescuing children from collapsed bombed buildings, carrying defenseless civilians away from danger, and even feeding the needy and the sick. The man seems to be a real-life saint.

Mohammand’s love for animals, and his willingness to put himself in danger for the benefit of these innocent souls, reminds me of Naoto Matsumura, also known as “The Last Man in Fukushima“, who returned to his home soon after the devastating tsunami of 2011 to care for the abandoned animals in the radioactive zone.

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