Peshawar’s Animal Whisperer

By Sonya Rehman

I first heard about the Lucky Animal Protection Shelter (LAPS) via Twitter. At the time, I was desperately looking for a home for a stray dog who lived in an empty plot next to a well-known eatery in Islamabad.

Betty was a sweet-natured dog who had suffered immensely after losing all her puppies – one after the other – to distemper, a deadly canine disease. Timid and in a state of grief, I was committed to getting her off the streets and in a safe space where she’d be fed and nurtured back to health. But finding someone who was willing and able to provide a home to a stray is an uphill battle in Pakistan – if Betty was a breed she would have had countless, eager offers.

After weeks of searching and asking friends and family to spread the word, I came across a Twitter account that had been tweeting out the most heartwarming images of a woman and her rescue dogs. An animal shelter in Peshawar? I was in a state of shock. It was then that I knew I had found Betty’s permanent home.

A few weeks of coordination later, Betty arrived at LAPS, ready to begin her healing journey.

Currently with over 150 dogs and a donkey called Charlie, each of whom have been rescued from Peshawar, Islamabad and Lahore, Zeba Masood, the founder of LAPS, treats her rescues like her own children. In person, she has a warm aura and kind eyes. There is wisdom too, the kind that merges with a level of intuition allowing her to understand her surroundings and those who cross her path on a deeper level.

Zeba Masood. Photo by: Sonya Rehman

No wonder animals take to her so naturally. Walking through her shelter in Charsadda, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the rescues bark excitedly as she passes by their enclosures. A few minutes later, one of the larger enclosures is opened and an assembly of dogs – of all shapes and sizes – come running out, jumping on her, licking her feet and frolicking about. There’s a flurry of activity and high energy around Zeba as she pets them, calling out to the naughty ones who are running around like there’s no tomorrow!

They’re confident, well-fed, human-friendly and happy dogs – ocular proof that each animal has been loved and cured even after suffering unimaginable cruelty at the hands of man. Each case has a different, heart-wrenching story. And while that may ache your heart, seeing them now, fully recovered and doing silly dog things, assures you that all of them were lucky – truly lucky – to cross Zeba’s path.

At the shelter. Photo by: Sonya Rehman

From Spikey to Fabio, Charlie (the donkey) and more – each animal’s wretched life has now turned around at LAPS, all under Zeba’s watchful, albeit loving gaze. The fact that they’re alive is nothing short of a miracle. 

With a limited number of staff members, Zeba, her husband Javed Khan, and their youngest son, Zarak Khan, run a tight ship at the shelter. But while the family has their hands full with the day to day running of LAPS, they were also recently targeted by some religious fundamentalists at their previous facility in Peshawar and were forced to vacate immediately since their lives and their animals’ lives were at stake.

For the men in the community, LAPS’ animal rescue work was beyond their understanding, besides, they believed dogs were ‘paleet’ and should be left on the streets to rot.

Even though they were up against a wall, Zeba and Javed moved swiftly with no intention of backing down. Threats be damned, the animals and their well-being was of utmost importance.

“We celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary this year,” Javed says, “For years I’d been planning on taking Zeba for a nice holiday, instead, we were sitting on the mud with Zorro, Bernie and Lucky on our anniversary and you know, it was the best experience I could’ve ever had. We’re very happy to be doing what we’re doing with LAPS. Through Zeba’s work I’ve developed such a love for animals because you receive such pure, unadulterated love back from them that it’s hard to put into words. My role here, after spending a greater part of my life in the US, is to essentially help and support my wife with her rescue work as much as I can. I really wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Javed Khan poses with a LAPS rescue. Photo by: Sonya Rehman

Having grown up with pets, Zeba has always had a special affinity for animals since she was a child. Moving back to Peshawar after four decades of living in the US, Zeba began feeding stray dogs from the trunk of her car close to her father’s plot. Lucky, one of Zeba’s earliest rescues (who is still with her) was part of a pack of dogs that she would feed on a regular basis. Soon enough, Zeba asked her father if she could fence in a small enclosure in the plot for her rescues. After much cajoling later, Zeba, with the help of a few donors, was able to put together a small animal shelter.

“My family wasn’t for it at all,” she says, “They’d say you’re wasting your time, do something that earns you money. But I stood firm and said that this is what I wanted to – I had found my purpose. It used to upset me so much seeing animals suffering on the roads, even though LAPS is just a drop in the ocean, I have to do what I can to alleviate their pain.”

Zeba with some of her rescues. Photo: LAPS

Today, only four years since the launch of LAPS, Zeba’s animal rescue work in Peshawar is slowly gaining much-needed attention from animal lovers at home and abroad. But there is still a lot to be done to get the new shelter up to speed.

With limited resources and sporadic funding, LAPS has been able to install desert coolers and fans in each enclosure for their animals. There’s a clinic too, which requires a bit of work and some necessary equipment.

Photo: LAPS

In a country where strays are beaten, raped, thrown acid on and shot at, LAPS has been working very hard to create awareness about animal cruelty and animal welfare in Peshawar. But it’s an uphill battle that Zeba, Javed and Zarak are prepared to fight.

“I see hope in the younger generation. I do believe they will end up changing the misconceptions about strays that the older generation failed to instill in them,” Zeba says, “The young people who visit my shelter have empathy for animals and I do believe they will end up making a difference in their lifetime.”

For donations to the Lucky Animal Protection Shelter (LAPS):

Via PayPal:

Via National Bank of Pakistan (NBP):

Account title: Lucky Animal Protection Shelter (LAPS)

Account #: 3312 025 030

IBAN #: PK 30 NBPA 0825 00331 2025030

The News on Sunday (TNS)

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