I was in the kitchen of my childhood home, watching my sisters bustling around each other and thinking the hecticness of the holidays should be over by now, when my phone rang. We had a cross-country rescue that took us coast to coast just before Christmas and while that kept me busy well past the New Year, I was starting to wonder we would do next. Typically, it’s a slow time of year for rescues through winter months, and I, too, found myself feeling comfortable being home enjoying the downtime…but I was also starting to get a bit itchy. I kept thinking about our recent big rescue mission and wondered how we would top that, and could we?

The display told me it was Lori Kalef from SPCA International, and I slid my finger across the screen as I sprinted past my sisters and up to my old bedroom. This was the call we had been waiting for.

Over the past several months, 70 dogs have been stranded in the West Bank. The sanctuary they called home and the only safe place they’d ever known, was being evacuated due to the encroaching military advancement. Finally, there was a chance a cargo plane might be able to rescue these dogs and fly them to the United States, where Lori and her team had worked tirelessly to find fosters and shelters throughout the country who agreed to open their hearts, as well as their homes, to them. This was incredible news, but the question was, could we help them once they made it here?

I didn’t hesitate. But now I had to get the Race for Life Rescue team on board, because it wouldn’t be just an epic rescue effort for our organization, the nearly 100 dogs traveling over 7,500 miles would mark the largest animal evacuation effort in US history.

And that’s only part of the story…

After a handful of email exchanges and threads among the groups, I was introduced to Maad Abu-Ghazalah, the founder of Daily Hugz, on a Google Meet. Here we all were in our little squares like a mish-mashed Brady Bunch family, and as we introduced ourselves, Maad connected with each one of us, his vibrant energy and the quiet kindness of his smile apparent. It was clear he’s an incredibly special person and I immediately wanted to know more about the sanctuary that brought us all together.

With a deeply personal connection to the West Bank, Maad recognized and responded to the hardship the community was enduring and wanted to provide a helpful haven for the people and animals there. In 2014, he bought an olive grove in the village of Asira and set about creating Daily Hugz. Soon, the sanctuary welcomed its first resident, Houdini, a donkey who have been severely beaten and blinded. Shortly after, Houdini was joined by aptly named Olive, a shepherd dog who became the first ambassador for visitors. This unlikely pair created a team, and a foundation for many rescues to come.we

As word about Hugz spread, and trust grew within Asira, people began reporting animals in need while others found their way to the gates like they’d somehow been called there. Many cultures see animals as property and not as conscious beings, a misconception that often makes cruelty to them easier to inflict. Children are taught to be frightened of them, and an ingrained defensiveness can lead to animal abuse. In urban settings, this particularly affects dogs, cats, horses, and donkeys – especially strays. But in Asira, kindergartens, refugee camps, and schools for children with special needs brought children to Hugz, where they could have a safe and peaceful place to play among the animals they were once instructed to fear. This wasn’t simply a sanctuary for animals mistreated by society, but also for children who were different and ostracized. There, they all belonged.


Daily Hugz became a much-needed resource for the underprivileged as well as a cultural cornerstone for hospitality and kindness. In 2017, the sanctuary held its first annual Olive Harvest Festival and many visitors came from abroad to see Daily Hugz firsthand, and the joy it brought to an oppressed community. The sanctuary gained supporters around the world, with charitable donations providing food and care for the animals and new programs for the children who finally found a place of acceptance and safety. But sadly, their days spent there were cut drastically short.

We are all aware of what has happened in that region over the past year, as the fifth war in that part of the world continues to rage on. And we know in a war, no one suffers like the innocent. The 70 dogs living at the sanctuary are now stranded, with little access to veterinary care, food, or supplies, and limited caretakers. As the situation continues to become more dire and unpredictable, the window to help grows smaller. So, Maad began to search for rescues in nearby areas who might be able to help with even a handful of the dogs. Among those he reached out to was fellow rescuer and friend, Lori Kalef, Director of Programs at SPCA International. After hearing his story, she told him she couldn’t take one or two of the dogs…she wanted to take all 70.

After nearly two months of the most amazing logistical work I’ve ever seen, Lori and her team have secured a flight for these dogs! And that flight from Tel Aviv arrives in JFK at 9am on Friday, March 15th. These world travelers will enjoy a day of much deserved relaxation and a comfortable night’s sleep after traveling halfway around the globe. On Saturday morning, 27 dogs will board our Race for Life Rescue plane and head to the Midwest, where they will call Michigan, Illinois and Ohio home. Twenty-one others will settle into two caravans and embark on an amazing road trip to North Carolina and Alabama. And last but not least, the remaining 22 dogs will leave Sunday morning, bright and early, on a Race for Life Rescue flight bound for Wyoming. After a day of seeing what ranches are all about, the west coast 12 will make their way to California and Washington, thanks to our wonderful friends at Wings of Rescue.

Today though, we wait. We hold our breath, cross our fingers, say a million affirmations…and hope. Each day that passes is a day closer to freedom, and safety. This 7,500-mile trip will be daunting and a bit heartbreaking, but we remind ourselves of the goodness that awaits them.

We remember that in just three days, history will be made, and Maad’s heart will be whole again.

This man gave from the depths of his being, for humans and animals that had long suffered in a beautiful place with a broken spirit. He simply created a space built on unconditional love and allowed those who entered to slowly heal their wounds, those evident and many unseen. What began as a request to help rescue 70 dogs in the West Bank, became a soul journey for us all. I can tell you this, with the utmost assurance, changing lives will inherently change yours, when you least expect it and when you need it the most. I will remember every one of these dogs, each of the faces I saw each week from a world away, and the indescribable feelings we shared bringing an impossible feat to fruition. I, for one, am forever changed.

In uncertain times ahead, which there will undoubtedly be, know this: we are creatures of compassion and capability; we are the keepers.

We are so thankful to be involved in this epic rescue mission, but it is also very costly. If you could help us get these dogs to safey, we would be so grateful. Even a small gift will make such a difference. 


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