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Rochester native aids pets in Lebanon

By Christina Killion-Valdez

ckillion@postbulletin.com

As fighting continues between Lebanon-based militants and Israel, one Rochester native is providing food, water and care to abandoned animals in the war-torn region.

Michele Rokke traveled to Lebanon as an animal rescuer for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. There, she is entering areas where residents were evacuated weeks ago to help rescue the animals left behind.

"There is a lot of work to be done here and a lot of animals in need, but it is very difficult to get to them because of the bombs," wrote Rokke in an e-mail a week after arriving in Beirut. "Many animals have been killed during the attacks. The animals we're seeing are terrified."

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In 1993, Rokke left her job as a hairstylist in Rochester to work for PETA. Her first full-time position was as an undercover investigator, documenting cases of animal cruelty across the country at farms, laboratories and a research hospital. Some of the information she obtained spurred investigations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Lately, she has worked more openly for the humane treatment of animals. Her home is in Santa Fe, N.M., where she educates the public about the importance of spaying and neutering animals. Last year, Rokke was part of a PETA team that rescued animals abandoned in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

"New Orleans was, of course, very different because the worst of the danger had passed by the time we all got there," she said. "Here, it is ongoing -- crisis after crisis. We don't know what will happen next, nor, really, the extent of the need."

People in Lebanon were not allowed to take animals with them when they left, she said.

"It's heartbreaking to hear about animals confined indoors, in cages or tied with no hope of fleeing attack," Rokke said.

Everyone she's met, from residents to soldiers, has been willing to help her cause, she said.

"Compassion breaks all political lines," Rokke said. "That's for sure."

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