The Cats of Aleppo … and Their Keeper

by Nicole Plyler Fisk


If there’s one thing I’ve learned from teaching Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games series to freshman composition students, it’s that — despite what presidential candidate Donald Trump would have us believe — we should not wax poetic over bombing anything. As horrible as the Capitol is, there are those within it who are working against it: people like Cinna, working subversively; or Plutarch, working undercover; or Cressida, Castor, and Pollux, waiting patiently for their opportunity to leave; or, in the end, Prim, who’s there as a medic.

I’ve written recently about the fact that we must intervene in Syria, not militarily but by stepping up our humanitarian game. Although the United States reached its goal of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016, that number — in the scheme of things — is paltry, less than a quarter of one percent … which, as Samantha Bee quips, “is ten times less than the acceptable amount of wood pulp in your parmesan cheese.” We should do (and be) better.

There are organizations that need our support, like the Migrant Offshore Aid Station, a group comprised of people who pull drowning refugees into lifeboats (think: Alan Kurdi) ; or the White Helmets, a group comprised of people who pull Syrians from bombed buildings (think: Omran Daqneesh).

But there’s also a need for human connection — for us, in our privilege, to be able to reach into the mess of things and clasp a hand we find there.

Living in the digital age makes that possible.

Two years ago, UK’s Daily Mail published a story about Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel, a Syrian ambulance driver who lives in rebel-controlled east Aleppo and started feeding all the cats left behind when war broke out and their owners fled.

A year ago, Alessandra Albin, a cat-loving Lebanese college student living in Italy, read the article, found Alaa on Facebook, and asked what she could do to help. They started a Facebook group, Il gattaro D’aleppo, and Alessandra started collecting donations, which she then forwarded to Alaa through his employer, Syria Charity (based in France).

Since then, a relatively small Facebook group of 4,578 people from around the globe have funded:

an animal shelter, named The House of Ernesto, for dogs, geese, and (mostly) cats …


a playground next to the animal shelter, named The Garden of Hope, for neighborhood children …


no less than two new ambulances for Alaa, after his were bombed … twice …


a much-needed well (the community had gone months without fresh water) … and more.

This entry was posted in Cats, Countries, Heroism, KIndness, Syria, War and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Cats of Aleppo … and Their Keeper

  1. wordcloud9 says:

    Thank you a thousand times over

    • Nicole Plyler Fisk says:

      So glad you enjoyed the post, wordcloud9. Light in the darkness indeed! It’s such a powerful human interest story … and so empowering to be able to connect with someone spreading hope and love and steadfastness while standing right-in-the-middle of that inconceivable chaos.

  2. dehereniging says:

    Over 17.000 likes by now for the support-group and lots of donations for this man’s wonderful work. But a lot more is needed. at the moment (a can of meat costs more than €50…) Hope this awful war will end soon so rebuilding and recovering can start and the cats can be taken care of in a beautiful new Ernesto-shelter!

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