Image Credit: Katrine Dige Houmøller

“It’s No Longer Just About the Welfare of Animals”: The Shadowy World of Pet Stores

The air is thick with the odor of urine, feces, and pet food, assaulting the senses as one steps into a pet shop in Beirut. Amidst the deafening cacophony of birds in cages, conversation becomes a challenge unless one shouts. 

In a corner, two dogs in their cramped enclosures leap over each other. Their excitement at seeing people is palpable despite the thin bars that confine them. Everything they have in the cage – limited to not more than a food bowl and water bowl – is now overturned. In the cramped space, they eat, play, sleep, and relieve themselves.

​​A pet shop in Beirut. Tuesday, March 19. Photo by Katrine Dige Houmøller.

From the cage above comes a piercing squeal, the source hidden behind a veil of paper. As it is drawn aside, a small dog with a wagging tail stands there, alternating between whimpering and barking fiercely. 

This dog stands on some thin bars, with only a few centimeters below constituting the bottom, where it must defecate and urinate. Elsewhere in the shop, a cat sits completely still, surrounded by its own excrement.

​​A pet shop in Beirut. Tuesday, March 19. Photo by Katrine Dige Houmøller.

The overpowering smell and noise make it unbearable to linger in the pet store for too long. It’s hard not to wonder about the toll this confinement takes on the animals.

According to Animals Lebanon, hundreds of pet stores hum with activity in every nook and cranny of Lebanon. However, an unknown number of them fail to meet the standards set by the Animal Protection and Welfare Law. But how do these illegal pet stores continue to operate despite legislation against them?

“It’s no longer just about the welfare of animals. It’s bigger than that,” Reem Sadek, Companion Animal Manager at Animals Lebanon, says.

A cat and four dogs in the pet store in the Broummana area were left in their own feces and urine without food and water during the store’s closure. The photo was captured from outside the store, peering through the window on Sunday, March 17. Photo by Katrine Dige Houmøller.

Do animals have feelings?’

“The conditions that the animals are being kept in at the pet shops are very sad,” Sadek says.

Animals Lebanon, comprising a team of four employees and several volunteers, provides care for over a hundred animals at their center. The organization extends public assistance for companion animals. They advocate for Lebanon’s adherence to regulations established by the World Animal Health Organization and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Animals Lebanon highlights the plight of animals by revealing the substandard conditions prevalent in many pet stores across the country. These conditions compromise animal welfare and pose risks to public health.

​​​​A pet shop in Beirut. Tuesday, March 19. Photo by Katrine Dige Houmøller.

In her report titled ‘Space per animal to help avoid crowding,’ Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Cynthia Karsten from UC Davis School emphasizes that animal crowding in shelters has a significant negative impact on the physical and behavioral health of animals. It increases the risk of disease, lowers air quality, and causes stress.

Dr. Cynthia Karsten mentions the guidelines and recommendations for space requirements for both dogs and cats.

Reem Sadek from Animals Lebanon emphasizes that the requirement for animal housing should be about displaying humanity towards animals. However, many pet owners believe that their treatment of animals is acceptable, despite the dismal circumstances surrounding the animals’ housing. They don’t know better, as Sadek says.

“Sometimes we hear an answer like, ‘Oh, do the animals really feel?’ And the owners genuinely express surprise, saying, ‘Oh, really? That’s not okay?’ Some people are so ignorant when it comes to how to treat animals,” says Sadek.

​​The manager of a pet shop in Beirut removed the cat from its cage, despite its fur being soiled with feces around its tail, to showcase it as a potential purchase. Tuesday, March 19. Photo by Katrine Dige Houmøller.

In such instances, Animals Lebanon bears a heightened responsibility to foster awareness. This entails educating individuals, enlightening them about the unacceptable nature of such treatment, and its violation of the law. In certain circumstances, legal recourse may be necessary.

A ‘Lack of Detailed Regulations’

Together with the Ministry of Agriculture, Animals Lebanon enacted the Animal Protection and Welfare Law, which came into force in September 2017. The law holds significance in this domain as it necessitates regulation, as per Jason Mier, the Director of Animals Lebanon. Enhancing animal welfare yields positive outcomes for the animals, people, and environment.

But when examining the current law, would pet store owners truly be able to determine how to establish a ‘proper’ standard for their pets?

Jason Mier, the Director of Animals Lebanon, explains that most countries lack detailed regulations.

“No one will say that you have to feed your animals three times a day, but they will say it’s essential to provide them with an ‘appropriate’ home and ‘appropriate’ care.”

Article 4 in the Animal Protection and Welfare Law prohibits actions causing distress, pain, or suffering to animals. Article 9 outlines requirements, including regular health supervision by a veterinarian and staff training on animal care. It also mandates adherence to limits on the number of animals based on facility qualifications and space.

Navigating Legal Complexity

Animals Lebanon endeavors to educate and warn pet store owners when necessary. In severe cases, if owners refuse to cooperate and display aggression towards the organization during discussions, Animals Lebanon promptly takes legal action.

In other cases, the organization issues three warnings to owners who demonstrate willingness to cooperate. If the situation persists without improvement and no action is taken, Animals Lebanon consults with their lawyer to determine the next steps.

“Given the complexities and time-consuming nature of legal processes, engaging with pet store owners could sometimes yield quicker results,” Sadek from Animals Lebanon says.

A pet shop in the Broummana area. Sunday, March 17. Photo by Katrine Dige Houmøller.

Pursuing legal action is neither simple nor swift, according to Sadek. It’s a complex process, and such cases are ubiquitous, making it impractical to sue every time. In cases involving indirect forms of abuse, owners can evade consequences by repeatedly circumventing the issue. So far, Animals Lebanon have ongoing legal cases where they haven’t made any progress yet.

However, there have been numerous instances where pet store owners take corrective action and respond positively to being informed of the unlawfulness and harm to the animals involved, according to Animals Lebanon.

But on one or two occasions, the organization shut down a pet shop, relocating all the animals. The dogs were transferred to a dog shelter under the care of veterinarians, while the cats were moved to a newly rented apartment for their housing.

This undertaking required employees to work overtime, necessitated additional hires, and extended over more than a week. In other instances, the process stretched over eight months, as some animals required prolonged treatment.

More than a hundred cats are under the care of Animals Lebanon in the same building as its office in Hamra, Beirut. The employee at Animals Lebanon, Samar El Said, on Friday, March 22. Photo by Katrine Dige Houmøller.

Ignorance of the Animal Welfare Law

It might appear puzzling why pet shop owners, entrusted with caring for animals and selling them, fail to treat their animals properly and uphold the given standards, simply because they ‘don’t know any better.’

“Some owners are unaware of the law, or perhaps not fully informed about the restrictions it entails,” says Sadek from Animals Lebanon.

How can pet store owners not know about the Animal Protection and Welfare Law?

“Actually, pet shops should adhere to specific standards in order to obtain licensing and operate legally,” Sadek says.

​​A pet shop in Beirut. Tuesday, March 19. Photo by Katrine Dige Houmøller.

Every establishment selling animals must acquire the necessary documents by complying with existing laws and obtaining approvals from the municipality, the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Agriculture.

Non-compliance may lead to license suspension or revocation, with legal consequences. It could also result in a one-year ban on related tasks, with the case referred to court. These regulations are outlined in Article 8 of the Animal Protection and Welfare Law.

Corrupted Pet Stores

Despite the shops being required to have the official documents, some fail to meet their requirements.

“Given the corruption, challenges, and catastrophes the country has endured, it becomes exceedingly difficult,” Sadek says.

A pet shop in the Broummana area. Sunday, March 17. Photo by Katrine Dige Houmøller.

“I’m blaming the rampant corruption and the burden people face, struggling to survive each day amidst a lack of basic resources and an uncertain future,” Sadek explains.

Sadek explains that the organization is aware of specific pet shops in certain areas where the owners mistreat their animals and fail to meet standards. 

However, Animals Lebanon is hesitant to visit these locations due to their unsafe and corrupted nature. The situation is so dire that even the police dare not venture there, tells Sadek. Furthermore, influential individuals in those areas protect the residents, making it difficult for the organization to take action.

Samar El Said has been working with the animals for eight years. She mentions the limit on how many animals Animals Lebanon can continue to take into their care. Hamra in Beirut. Friday, March 22. Photo by Katrine Dige Houmøller.

“We have enacted laws that enforce specific standards to ensure the well-being of animals. If every pet shop adhered to these laws, the conditions would undoubtedly be much better,” expresses Sadek.

Beirut Today reached out to the Ministry of Agriculture for comment regarding Animals Lebanon’s statement about certain pet store owners bypassing requirements through connections with influential figures, allowing them to circumvent the law without consequences. The Ministry did not respond to any of our requests.

Calling All Animal Lovers

Sadek makes it clear that Animals Lebanon cannot single-handedly combat illegal pet stores, a corrupt system, and influential individuals to promote animal welfare. They need the support of the population.

“When everyone, every animal lover, truly stands up for this, perhaps we can make a change. We cannot do it alone,” says Sadek.

​​Animals Lebanon receives around 20 to 30 help requests from the public every day. Animals Lebanon Office, Hamra in Beirut. Friday, March 22. Photo by Katrine Dige Houmøller.

Animals Lebanon advocated for changes in the law to allow anyone to file a complaint. However, most individuals prefer to contact organizations rather than take direct action themselves. Despite Animals Lebanon offering assistance with legal matters to alleviate financial concerns, some individuals prefer to avoid personal involvement.

Transitioning from Corruption to Collaboration

The solution isn’t as simple as just taking the mistreated animals from the pet shops into rescue centers, according to Sadek. She points out that even if their organization expands, it’s not a sustainable solution.

“Would this prevent new illegal shops from opening?” Sadek asks rhetorically.

​​”We’re all animal lovers. Before joining the organization, we all started as volunteers. Being part of this organization makes you feel responsible towards all the animals,” says Reem Sadek, the Companion Animal Manager for Animals Lebanon. Hamra, Beirut. Friday, March 22. Photo by Katrine Dige Houmøller.

There is a law in place now, which marks a step forward. However, it’s evident that there are still pet shops operating with standards that blatantly defy the law. Sadek emphasizes that the solution lies in rectifying the conditions and circumstances within these pet shops. This requires implementing a cooperative system, one that not only acknowledges the law but actively enforces it. 

This includes preventing individuals from falsifying paperwork to falsely claim compliance with standards they’re not meeting, in addition to strict oversight of these establishments. 

According to Sadek, this ensures that influential connections can’t simply make problems disappear with a phone call.

“Animal welfare is a new issue in a country with many significant problems, and it takes time to see real changes,” wrote Jason Mier, the Director of Animals Lebanon, in a written response.

The Challenge of Prioritizing Animal Welfare

Reem Sadek explains that Animals Lebanon relies on people’s support to assist them due to the limited legal backing they receive. 

But there is an obstacle. With the current major issues in Lebanon, such as the economic crisis and tensions in the south, it’s unlikely that people will be able to respond effectively. 

People are preoccupied with meeting basic needs like food, work, and education for their families, alongside just trying to get through each day. Therefore, it may not be the right time for people to prioritize animal welfare.

“It’s challenging to expect much from a population that’s already drained by various forms of abuse and struggling to cope,” says Sadek.

​​Animals Lebanon Office, Hamra in Beirut. Friday, March 22. Photo by Katrine Dige Houmøller.

The current circumstances make it difficult for Animals Lebanon to organize large-scale campaigns or events. Resources are limited and sponsorships have dwindled due to the ongoing situation. 

Despite these challenges, the organization is putting effort to raise awareness, particularly among schools and the younger generation.

When is the time where you will take action then?

“Well, that’s everyone’s question. Right now, we’re focused on surviving. To be honest, we’re all just waiting for this to stop so we can start focusing on improvement,” says Sadek.

Animal Lebanon’s hope remains for things to improve once the situation settles a bit. Although the country is going through tough times, there’s optimism that things will eventually get better.

​​A pet shop in Beirut. Tuesday, March 19. Photo by Katrine Dige Houmøller.

A few days later, Beirut Today returned to the pet store in Beirut. Amidst its pungent air and incessant chirping, everything remained unchanged.

The small dog and its companions are still confined within their cramped space, growing increasingly soiled. Until a potential owner arrives to claim the little dog, it will remain hidden behind a veil of paper, a silent witness to the passing of time.


Reem Sadek’s remarks regarding the legal aspects of animals in Lebanon, as featured in this article, reflect her broad understanding and general knowledge rather than a direct reflection of Animals Lebanon’s operational procedures.