Throughout the war in Syria a cat shelter owned and managed by local man Mohammad Aljaleel stayed open for business. But as the fighting intensified between government forces and rebel factions, what had been for years a sanctuary of feline peace found itself dangerously close to the front line.
Shortly after Aljaleel’s shelter was featured on British television it fell victim to Russian air strikes and gas attacks. Aljaleel (otherwise known as Alaa) was forced to flee Syria for Turkey along with injured local residents and six of the shelter's cats.
The ‘Cat Man of Aleppo’ had earned himself the adoration of people from all over the world for his ongoing work and his incredible bravery, but his continuing to rescue and care for cats had become an impossibilty.
A return to 'normality'
Three years on from the siege of the Aleppo, Alaa returned to his native land and began to rebuild his business.
‘I’ve always felt it’s my duty to help people and animals when they need it,’ he told The Mirror. ‘I believe that whoever does this will be the happiest person in the world, besides being lucky in his life.’
Today the shelter is home not just to cats (although it is still technically a cat shelter). According to reports, Alaa and his staff look after ‘dogs, monkeys, rabbits, a chicken and an Arabian thoroughbred horse’.
A crowdfunding page that gathered support and donors from around the world enabled Alaa to rebuild and expand the shelter to also incorporate an orphanage that looks after 105 children.
‘We are rebuilding our communities and my role in that is to rebuild my sanctuary for cats,’ Alaa told the BBC. ‘Friendship between animals is a great thing and we should learn from them. I'll stay with them no matter what happens’.