By Sonya Rehman
The images were gruesome and heartbreaking: hundreds of corpses of stray dogs were flung off garbage trucks and lined up on a road to be disposed off in August, in Karachi. Poisoned in a bid to curb the stray dog population in the city, the move by the municipal authority was cruel at best.
The mistreatment of animals in Pakistan primarily stems from a lack of education and empathy for animals, moreover, the lack of laws to protect animals from abuse and neglect doesn’t help matters either. In a country where any discussion on religion can bring with it immense aggression, defensiveness and zero tolerance for open dialogue, I’ve always found it bizarre how some fail to truly embody and live their faith in its truest sense; which also includes being compassionate to animals.
Both the hadith and the Quran teach explicitly, kindness, mercy and compassion towards animals, yet the cases of cruelty towards strays, the beasts of burden, continue to mount and silence the voices of those handful of animal rights activists and animal NGOs in Pakistan.
This year on Eid al-Adha, I was appalled to see how a number of homes in my neighborhood (and beyond) had chained up hoards of cows, goats and camels in the sun while the animals were kicked around and mistreated before the sacrifice. If this is how some families practice their religion, then what are they teaching their children?
Our zoos are dismal and horrifying at best, too – poor Kaavan the abused elephant in Islamabad’s Maraghazar Zoo was unchained this year after 27 years primarily due to mounting international pressure and criticism. If Kaavan’s case had not received that much press, I’m certain he would have taken his last breath in chains. And then there are the countless other zoo animals, just like Kaavan, holed up in dank cages – emaciated, sick, listless, depressed.
Yet there are slivers of hope in the form of the incredible Ayesha Chundrigar Foundation (ACF) in Karachi and more recently, Todd’s Welfare Society (TWS) in Lahore, amongst a few others.
Initiated this year in March by Kiran Maheen, a young animal lover, TWS was launched after Maheen received a distress call from a friend, Umer, who found a dog riddled with bullets near his residence in Model Town. Shot ruthlessly by a security guard in the area, the dog was in immense pain.
“Bullets had pierced through the dog’s eyes, blinding her,” Maheen said, “My friend didn’t have any transport to take the dog to the vet and according to people nearby, she was shot early morning, which meant she had been suffering for the last few hours. I immediately got in touch with another animal rights activist who rushed to the scene and took the dog to the nearest veterinary clinic where she was humanely put down and buried in a plot nearby.”
Having worked with local animal welfare organizations over the last two years, the incident drove Maheen to launch her own animal NGO.
“That was the day I realized that merely talking about helping animals was not going to change anything,” the twenty-five-year-old stated, “We needed to do something to end their suffering and fight for the rights of animals.”
Named after her little Samoyed Russian Terrier, Todd, who was stolen when he was only three-years-old, Maheen said that it was very daunting running TWS in the beginning with only one friend. “We didn’t know how we’d operate without a team and manage rescues,” she said, “But within just a few months TWS has grown phenomenally. This was a dream which grew from a tragedy and it has achieved things I never thought would be possible.”
“There have been heartbreaking cases, loads of sleepless nights and tears,” she’s quick to add, “However; there hasn’t been a single moment when I’ve regretted starting TWS.”
Currently comprising of a team of eight board members, nine team members and a number of volunteers and interns, TWS receives emergency calls round the clock about injured animals, hit-and-run cases, tortured pets, abandoned pets and many other devastating cases.
“My first case was of a pregnant dog called Emma who the neighbors wanted to poison because they considered her ‘dirty.’ She turned out to be one of our most loving rescues who gave birth to eight healthy puppies, seven of whom have been adopted.”
At present, Maheen houses all her rescues (who are yet to find a loving home) at the NGO’s Vice President’s house who resides overseas. Still, given the number of her rescues, TWS is in desperate need of foster homes for its pets. “Finding fosters has been incredibly difficult,” Maheen said, who has had to bring two dogs and eight puppies to her own home due to the lack of space.
“Everyone wants to comment on a kitten or puppy’s picture and tell you how cute the animal is but nobody wants to take it home. However, if it’s a breed our inbox is flooded with requests for adoptions.”
But breed animals too, suffer a similar fate to strays in Lahore. “We’ve had to deal with so many abandoned Persian cats and Labradors because the owners couldn’t handle the responsibility of owning a pet,” she stated, “It’s heartbreaking.”
For the imminent future, Maheen intends on not only opening up an animal shelter in Lahore and launching an animal awareness campaign to teach children to be empathetic to animals, but also instigating a mass TNR (Trap-Neuter-Release) operation which would aid in reducing the stray animal population.
“The plan is to spay/neuter, vaccinate and tag the animal,” she stated, “After which the animal will be released and not prove a threat to society. However, this can only work if the authorities are on board with us, otherwise strays will continue to be shot and poisoned.”
*If you’d like to adopt a pet from Todd’s Welfare Society and/or make a donation, log into their Facebook page for more information.
The Friday Times