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A Canine Refugee’s Journey from Syria to Belgium
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Bassel and Stella
Bassel and Stella

While Vandermeulen was dealing with the formalities of the flight. Bassel’s friend waited outside. He wouldn’t go back until he was certain Stella had boarded and nothing had gone wrong. The Lebanese police thought his presence was suspicious and didn’t believe his story. “Bringing a Syrian dog to Belgium—who believes that?” Vandermeulen jokes. The friend stayed in a cell for a night, but was then let go and sent back to Syria.

When Stella finally arrived in Belgium, she was completely dizzy and confused. She didn’t recognize Bassel.

“It was a strange moment; I thought she lost her mind,” Bassel says. “The first days, she didn’t remember who I was. It took her a week to recognize my voice.”

Then the work could begin. Stella was completely out of shape, fat and unable to run properly. “She didn’t want to eat normal dog food. She didn’t care for anything less than a chicken breast with a pepper sauce,” Bassel jokes. Vandermeulen took her along when he went jogging, but she couldn’t keep up.

But slowly, the playful energy of the Husky came back. The patter of dog paws on the wooden floor of the Vandermeulen house became a familiar sound. She also started eating normally again. “Today, she easily keeps up when I go running,” Vandermeulen says.

Bassel is very happy that she’s here with him. Every other day, he puts pictures of Stella on his Facebook and Instagram pages. Stella is happy too. “She’s in love with him,” shouts Vandermeulen’s daughter.

In the parks of Brussels, Stella runs into another dog. They sniff each other. There are no airplanes around. Slowly, Stella is beginning to feel at ease in her new country. Her Belgian friends are getting to know her.

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Kasper Goethals is journalist from Brussels. He is the co-founder of The Caravan’s Journal, an international not-for-profit agency of storytellers and journalists aimed at the exchange of knowledge, culture and experience.

kaspergoethals.wordpress.com

Photographs by Johannes De Bruycker

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