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Getting Max out of Lebanon

In the mountains of Lebanon, there’s a Cocker Spaniel named Max whose life was literally blown apart by a massive explosion in Beirut last year. His owner, still recovering from the blast himself, is hoping to get Max to the United States, where he can be reunited with the rest of their family. Pets for Refugees is trying to help them. PFR’S mission is helping refugees in Upstate New York find and care for companion animals, and because this project doesn’t fit those criteria, we’re handling this as a separate fundraiser, just for Max. We heard about Max and his owner, Raed (pronounced Red) El-Khazen, from Raed’s cousin Justine, who lives in Brooklyn. Justine wrote to us about Max and Raed and what’s happened in Lebanon, and you can read her full account below. The Aug. 4, 2020, explosion of ammonium nitrate at a port in Beirut killed more than 200 people and injured more than a thousand others, including Raed, an American-educated guitarist who had returned to his home country to launch a record label and develop local music talent. At the time, Raed was making plans to return to the U.S. to escape Lebanon’s collapsing economy and rising unrest. Raed’s wife, an American citizen, had already moved back to the U.S. with the couple’s son and several pets. Raed had kept Max with him for company as he tried saving money and preparing to apply for a Green Card. The explosion, which damaged or destroyed the homes of more than 300,000 people and cost Raed vision in his left eye, shattered those plans. Raed and Max, who’s still skittish from the blast that could be heard more than 150 miles away, abandoned their home in Beirut. Raed found Max a spot in a boarding facility for dogs, where he’s been running up a hefty tab, while Raed has been staying with friends, receiving treatment for his own injuries and incurring more debt. Raed, who lived through years of civil war in Lebanon as a child and experienced the 9/11 terrorist attacks as a resident of New York, has a long way to go before he’ll be able to reunite with his family in New Jersey, but he’s hoping that in the meantime, he can at least get his beloved dog out of the country. To do that, he’ll need to pay off Max’s boarding fees and buy him a plane ticket. Max has all his vaccinations and records in order, so he’s eligible to make the trip, just as the family’s other dog and cats did a couple years ago. The total cost, just for Max’s expenses, was about $2,750, as of mid May. Any money we raise will go toward those expenses. Thousands of people are suffering as a result of both the explosion and the political chaos in Lebanon, and we hope you’ll consider supporting them, as well. But in this space, we’re trying to make life better for one dog, one man and his family. Here’s Justine’s story, complete with links to an article about Raed’s music that appeared in the New York Times 20 years ago and to more information about what Raed was doing before the explosion: For fifteen years, from 1975 to 1990, Lebanon was roiled by a bitter Civil War between its Christian and Muslim populations. Raed, a Christian, was raised in that war. Growing up in a war zone, he didn’t have much opportunity for creativity or the kinds of enrichment activities we take for granted in this country, like music lessons, but he always had a desire to play guitar. He used to spend hours pretending his dad’s old tennis racket was a guitar, just strumming away. He caught a lucky break not long after the war ended: Berklee College of Music, in Boston, offered him a scholarship to come and study in the United States. This was a huge accomplishment and a huge opportunity. He had no formal training, but his talent was obvious, and Berklee took a chance on him. He moved to Boston, then New York, spending almost 15 years playing on its jazz and pop circuits. Along the way, he learned to produce music as well. At a certain point, he felt an obligation to give something of his good fortune back to the musicians of Lebanon, so in 2010, he moved back to Beirut and opened B-root Records, a production house dedicated to finding and developing talent in the Middle East. Here is a profile of Raed in the New York Times, written by the jazz critic Mike Zwerin, and here is Raed’s professional bio, if you want to learn more about him. Beirut was putting its war torn past behind it, once again becoming a tourist destination known for its nightlife. Raed was part of that transformation. He spent 10 years playing in its clubs and helping many of its artists develop their sound. Here’s a little bit about the scene and Raed’s impact on it. During this period, Raed also got married, had a son and adopted numerous pets: several cats, a German Shepherd named Maggie and a Cocker Spaniel named Max. But the government that formed after the civil war wasn’t stable. A lot of the key players from the war held powerful positions, and rather than govern Lebanon honestly, they set about extracting as much wealth as they could. Then, when the Syrian Civil War began, the refugees began pouring in. In the last decade, Lebanon has taken in more refugees than any other country in the world, with over 20 percent of its population being UN refugees. The strain on Lebanon’s financial systems was too great. Unemployment and inflation skyrocketed. Public protests against these conditions began in 2019. The government resigned. But the government’s resignation wasn’t enough. Lebanon had begun its descent into chaos. Things in the country were desperate. Protests continued day and night. Public debt began to soar. Nearly half the country was living in poverty. Blackouts reigned. Meanwhile, the banking class was extracting an estimated $6 billion from the country’s collapsing financial system. These forces were tearing Lebanon apart, and then, the Port of Beirut exploded. Two thousand, seven hundred fifty tonnes of ammonium nitrate from an abandoned tanker were left to rot in a silo next to a stockpile of explosives. This neglect was another casualty of Lebanon’s failing government. They knew these substances were there but did nothing. One day in August of 2020, the explosives caught fire, causing the ammonium nitrate to detonate. Hundreds were killed. Thousands were injured, and hundreds of thousands were displaced. After a decade of taking in refugees, Lebanese people became the refugees. Raed and Max had to get out. Raed’s wife, son, his cats and Maggie, the German Shepherd, had by then immigrated to Bayonne, N.J. Raed’s wife and son are US citizens, so as soon as the protests began in 2019, they left along with most of the pets. Before the explosion and the complete collapse of Lebanon’s economy, Raed’s plan had been to make what money he could to pay for his green card application, legal fees and other costs associated with immigrating. The explosion of the Port of Beirut put an end to that dream, though, not only because the economy bottomed out—75 percent of Lebanese now live in poverty, on less than $7 a day—but also because Raed was badly injured in the explosion. Cranial nerves in his face were damaged. He was in constant pain and stopped being able to use his left eye. Not knowing what else to do, Raed brought Max to a place that boards dogs in the mountains outside Beirut. Max was also affected by the explosion. He became jumpy, fearful, disturbed by the normal urban noises of Beirut. Raed figured it would be healthy for him to spend some time in the country, while he figured out what to do with himself. He was broke and badly injured, so when a friend offered to put him up in Egypt, in a coastal town on the Red Sea, Raed leapt at the opportunity. Since August, he’s been recuperating, doing physical therapy when he can afford it, so he can regain some control over his eye, and applying for grants. Now that he’s back on his feet somewhat, he wants to begin the process of immigrating. How he will afford this in a dead economy is another story. We’re asking you for help with a small but important piece of this process: getting Max to America. Raed and Max are up against huge global forces, forces that affect millions. We know that asking you to help one dog—when there are so many companion animals who need help—and one man—when thousands of people are fleeing the country daily—seems like a ridiculously small and maybe even selfish request. But Max is dear to us. We love him. Losing him will break our hearts. The story of Lebanon is a story of compounding tragedies. Helping us get Max to America will prevent one very small, personal tragedy from adding to the sum total of sadness and despair coming out of Lebanon these days. Any amount will make a difference to us. Please consider helping us get Max out. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. If you prefer to make your donation through PayPal, you can go that route and leave a note that it's for Max.

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