When the war in Syria ripped their world apart, Arwa Omaren thought she would never see her beloved dog, Jacko, again. But sometimes the unexpected happens. Sue Corfield reports.
As a refugee without any financial backing, Arwa’s dreams of getting her dog to the UK seemed unlikely to be fulfilled.
But then War Paws — a charity that helps reunite soldiers with dogs they rescue overseas — got involved, and three years later, Jacko, a five-year-old Golden Retriever, has been reunited with Arwa.
And this is, in part, thanks to the kindness of Your Dog’s readers who donated towards the cost of his passage to the UK.
Arwa dreamed of being reunited with Jacko — and eventually her dream came true.
Readers may recall the article on War Paws featured in the April 2021 issue of Your Dog, which highlighted the plight of refugee Arwa and Jacko, the dog she had to leave behind when she left her war-torn country.
Thirty-five-year-old Arwa had studied to become an actress in Damascus, but the war brought her career to an abrupt end, and her life was turned upside down.
Arwa had to leave Syria when her home was bombed. She went with other refugees to Lebanon, leaving Jacko behind with her family. Arwa endured a dreadful journey and experienced the treachery of people smugglers before finally reaching the UK and claiming asylum.
After her family headed to Turkey, War Paws found temporary shelter for Jacko with an animal rescue in Lebanon while his vaccinations and travel arrangements were made, and War Paws fundraised to cover these costs.
Jacko still remembered some of the tricks Arwa had taught him as a puppy.
A NEW START FOR ARWA
Arwa has been getting her life back on track in the UK. She is living in London, speaks excellent English, and has been doing work experience in a dental clinic and is hoping to qualify and work there.
She was lonely and desperate for Jacko to join her in the UK. Louise Hastie, who heads War Paws, fundraised tirelessly to help cover Jacko’s kennelling, veterinary treatment, and travel, which amounted to around £3,000.
She said: “Jacko was taken to Beirut to one of our rescue partners — Beirut for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. At least we knew he would be safe and cared for there while we arranged for all of his vaccinations and castration.
“We had five other dogs also coming over and two friends to escort them.
“They flew into France and then the Dogbus charity collected them and brought them overland to Many Tears Animal Rescue in Wales.”
Arwa then drove from London to collect Jacko and take him back to her home in Ealing.
“I was so excited on the journey, but also a little anxious as we had been separated for so long. I was worried he might not remember me,” Arwa explained.
Her concerns were groundless, as Jacko was clearly delighted to see her and even remembered some of the tricks she had taught him as a puppy. It was an emotional reunion.
“It was the happiest day ever for me. He was really excited to see me and brought his ball over to me, and then he calmed right down and sat down at my side and hasn’t left me since,” Arwa recalled.
It was a very difficult separation for both of them. “I felt so guilty for leaving him and never gave up hope that one day we would be reunited. He is like my child and I couldn’t imagine life without him.”
The pair are enjoying life in Ealing and have parks on their doorstep.
JACKO'S LONG JOURNEY
Life was hard for Jacko when Arwa left. Initially in Syria, her family kept him safe but that involved keeping him inside for over eight months, as the government was putting poison down in the area to get rid of stray dogs who were eating human remains.
Although life improved for him once he reached Beirut, he was then in the rescue kennels with other anxious and stressed dogs. The COVID-19 pandemic meant that it took a lot longer for Jacko to continue his journey on to the UK because so many flights were cancelled. His transportation was booked and cancelled on several occasions. This was a roller-coaster ride for Arwa, whose hopes would soar only to be dashed when the flights were cancelled.
Arwa with Jacko as a puppy.
So many of her hopes for a new life were invested in being reunited with Jacko. She said: “In Syria before the war, I had a great career ahead of me as an actress. Now, in the UK, I have had to start over, which is fine, but with the refugee applications and the journey over here, it has been a traumatic time, and I felt with Jacko coming over I would have some part of my life back. That was definitely the case. I am exhilarated to have him back in my life.
I have a garden here in Ealing and we have parks on our doorstep. I have established a walking routine with him and I get to meet and speak to lots of other dog owners; he is a great ice-breaker!
“He has settled so well into his new life here. He is really good off the lead and very friendly, but he is also smart and clever and understands so much. I talk to him all the time and my life has improved so much now that he is here with me. I am so grateful to Louise and War Paws and to everyone who donated to help bring him over to the UK.”