The Syrian city of Aleppo is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It served as one endpoint of the famed Silk Road, and its history and architecture are enduring symbols of Islamic heritage. It’s also the epicenter of some of the region’s deadliest clashes between the government-held west and rebel-controlled east sides of the country. The country’s civil war began in 2011, The Battle of Aleppo a year later, and millions of residents have fled the country, leaving behind lives, homes, and beloved family pets. In response to the widespread abandonment of countless cats, one man has taken it upon himself to care for as many of them as possible.
Aleppo citizen Mohammad Alaa Jaleel has resumed care of more than a hundred stray and deserted felines. In a video profile by BBC News, Jaleel explains how came to be known as “The Cat Man of Aleppo.” “When people left, the cats started coming to me,” he recounts. “Some people just left them with me knowing how much I love cats.” His reputation of compassion began to spread, and soon his sanctuary of “twenty to thirty cats” swelled to “more than a hundred” a year later.
One little girl, forced to forfeit her beloved pet due to her family’s emigration from the war-torn region, keeps in contact with Jaleel to ensure her cat is taken good care of. “I’ve been taking photos of the cat and sending them to her in Turkey,” he says, adding the girl made him promise to return her cat once her family was able to come home. Because many people in his life have left Syria, Jaleel says the cats have become something more akin to friends than pets. “Someone who has mercy in their heart for people has mercy for every living thing,” he says.