By Sonya Rehman
Nuzzling into my leg, he looks at me solemnly awaiting a pet, a cuddle or a belly rub. Paddy, a chubby Maltese is the epitome of innocence. Looking at him, it’s hard to imagine that this little cloud of fluff was abandoned on a summer day, this year, in the ground of the hospital at the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences (UVAS) in Lahore.
Seated on a beige sofa in her living room, in a house tucked away on the corner of a road in Burki, Laleen Bokhari reveals that she first spotted Paddy at the hospital all by himself.
“He was quietly looking at people walk by, and I thought, of course his owner was around,” she says. But after an hour went by, Laleen saw him sitting in the same spot and knew something wasn’t right. Speaking to a staff member in the vicinity, she was informed that Paddy had been dropped off at the hospital the night before.
“I was heartbroken for him and decided to take him home right away.” Before she took him home, Laleen decided to get Paddy looked at by the veterinarian, what if he was suffering from an illness that she had no idea about? It was during this time that a bomb exploded just outside the shrine of Data Darbar, resulting in a number of casualties, insurmountable damage and widespread panic in the city.
“If I hadn’t have stopped to take Paddy home, I would have been in the area when the bomb went off, because that was my route back home,” Laleen states quietly, “I thought God was being kind; by saving Paddy’s life, God saved mine.”
Having rescued animals all her life, ever since she was a little girl, Laleen’s animal rescue stories are fascinating, beautiful and heartbreaking all at once.
Take Toto for instance, a soft-natured black and white dog who she found paralyzed and convulsing on a footpath in 2010. Barely a few months old, the vet had advised Laleen to put Toto down. But what if the puppy could survive and have a chance at living a normal life? Nine years later, Toto revels in his trips to the park and can even walk with some support.
“He’s a very intelligent dog…when I look back at his journey, I really think he helped me help him.”
Mitzy, a geriatric pug, who races around Laleen’s house like a wind-up toy, looks like a very large cinnamon roll with legs. For her age and size, Mitzy is full of sass and excitable energy. Yipping away at Laleen’s cats to back off from her bowl of munchies, one can’t help but to scoop Mitzy up and kiss her face while she snorts in happiness.
Part of a Facebook group for animal lovers, Laleen came across a post alerting the members about a dog who was battling pyometra (a uterus infection) at UVAS and was in a critical condition.
“Mitzy’s owners had dumped her at the hospital when the vet told them that she required surgery as soon as possible,” Laleen says, “They told the vet they were going to step outside to discuss the matter between themselves and before you know it, they had disappeared.”
Rescuing abused and severely injured dogs, cats, donkeys, birds and kites on the brink of death over the years, Laleen states that she can never tolerate seeing an animal in pain.
“How can I drive past an injured or dying animal? Even in their last moments, I feel it is my duty to be with them. I can’t let them die alone. They have nobody. When I see hit-and-run cases, I make sure I stop my car and check to see if the animal has passed away. On two occasions, I’ve found that the animal was alive.”
But taking animals to the vet on a daily basis is incredibly expensive. However, Laleen perseveres. Piecing together funds from her small food catering business to meet expenses, she has also had her fair share of backlash from aggressive neighbors as well.
In her previous residence in Cantonment, a male neighbor attempted to break Laleen’s door down while threatening to remove her animals. Another was verbally abusive and would throw stones at Laleen’s injured crows.
“People think animals are unclean, particularly dogs. Secondly, there’s this mob mentality in Pakistan; if someone objects, others gang up against you,” she says. But Laleen remains unafraid thanks to her unwavering faith in God.
“I love animals because I think they have absolutely no one in this world, and I can’t bear the thought of an animal lying on the road and dying a slow, painful death. It just destroys me. When I see my animals asleep at night I feel so much at ease because I know they’re safe with a roof over their heads. I live for them.”
If you’d like to send a donation for Laleen’s rescues, email: firstname.lastname@example.org