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Happy tails for handicapped pets

Updated Sep 23, 2013 01:00pm

Pets on wheels

Love, at times, makes you do wonderful things. This was exactly the case when Rubaba Niazi, with her son’s help, did something special for her dog. Little did she know at that time that a small initiative on her part would not only improve the life of her paralysed pet but would also help save lives of many disabled animals who would otherwise have been euthanised.

Duke, a German shepherd, had initially fallen ill due to tick fever that paralysed his hind legs. The poor animal gradually developed bedsores as the paralysis greatly restricted his movement. The family, moved by his deteriorating condition, searched the internet and found a solution; a wheelchair which was initially designed to be a two-wheeler but later turned into a four-wheeler to meet Duke’s needs.

“Making a wheelchair that suited Duke’s needs required persistent effort as we had to alter our contraption many times. I was driven by the huge love I have had for animals since my childhood,” says Rubaba, explaining her motivation for developing a wheelchair for her pet, early this year.

The four-wheeler, according to the family, made the pet so active that he seemed to forget that he was paralysed.

“Most dogs don’t survive tick fever but Duke made a hundred per cent recovery despite having rear paralysis and minor bedsores. Over a period of time so much sensation had come back in his hind legs, I believe that if he had lived longer he might have been able to walk again,”

Rubaba says.

- Courtesy Photo
- Courtesy Photo

The family, unfortunately, lost the dog some months ago when he was administered a wrong injection at a hospital.

“We have the comfort of knowing that he didn’t die in pain. He lived his life to the fullest,” she says. Now, what started out as a labour of love for her own pet has become a lifeline for other disabled pets.

So far, Rubaba has provided tailor-made wheelchairs to six families for their disabled pets. The contraption is all made from locally available material; the family’s handyman Sakhi combs the markets for whatever is needed.

“He is exceptionally dedicated; I don’t think we would be able to design and develop a good adjustable wheelchair without the materials he finds,” she said.

Among those who have benefited from Rubaba’s creations is Mariam Khan whose cat suffered a spinal injury when she fell from the balcony.

“Her legs stopped working and that led to bedsores. Besides, she also developed urinary and fecal incontinence. I was advised to put her to sleep but I didn’t want to lose her. She was and is such a wonderful cat. She’s got so much life in her,” Mariam says.

Mariam’s cat has been using the wheelchair for three months now and, according to her, the change in Berlioz’s life is amazing.

“She doesn’t remain on the chair all the time but the little time she spends on it helps her do and explore things on her own which makes her happy,” says Mariam, appreciating Rubaba’s effort.

Kanza Wyne adopted a stray dog with the help of Paws (Pakistan Animal Welfare Society), whom she named ‘Hopeful’. The dog was in very poor shape at the time of adoption as his rear leg bones had become calcified and hardened after an accident.

“The wheel chair has changed Hopeful’s life completely. He loves his chair because that provides him with an opportunity to do things on his own,”

says Wyne.

According to one of the city’s leading vets, many people approach him with pets that have been paralysed after suffering some serious injury or prolonged illness such as tick fever.

“Tick fever, as the name suggests, is spread by a tick. It’s one of the most dangerous diseases in dogs and quite common in Karachi since it’s a coastal city. The disease can be prevented with the regular use of different lotions, sprays and medicines which are available in the market,” he said.

With the use of a wheelchair, he said, people, who earlier had limited options for their disabled pets, now had an opportunity to improve the quality of their lives.

“Though the animal moves around with the help of a wheelchair for just half an hour or so in the entire day, it has a big positive impact on the animal’s physical and psychological wellbeing. I think it’s the first time that such an initiative has been taken in Pakistan. Disabled animals have the right to live, too, though management of such an animal is a tough job, requiring a lot of patience and time,” he said.

Mrs Niazi is based in Karachi and is happy to provide custom-built wheelchairs at cost price. Ask your vet for details or visit

Faiza Ilyas

All creatures great and small

I was tweeting, as one does, some photographs of a litter of tiny puppies recently, in the hope that some kind soul with enough self-esteem to not require a pedigreed dog to cement their social status may consider taking one home.

Their mother had been run over and they were whining little furballs barely a month old, and living in what was essentially a deathtrap next to a busy main road. A stray dog is of course not just ‘as good’ as a pedigreed one, but hardier, better suited to the environment, not as delicate as pedigreed animals and also less likely to have a coat more suited to a life in, say, the Swiss Alps.

It seems to me the duty of all decent people to take in stray dogs, not just for the lifetime of love and joy they guarantee but also to make up for their barbaric countrymen to whom casual cruelty to animals is something of a pastime.

Cat canula- A Siamese cat undergoes intensive treatment. - Courtesy Photo
Cat canula- A Siamese cat undergoes intensive treatment. - Courtesy Photo

Suggesting that people take a dog in off the streets didn’t seem the world’s most controversial suggestion till the responses began flooding in. “What about people?” various Pakistanis sputtered at me, “How can you think about dogs when there are people in need?” Quite easily, if you must know, what with there being little connection. I’m not sure when in Pakistan the belief was established that caring for an animal is tantamount to finding a child and throwing it into a vat of boiling oil. I’ve attempted to find homes for dogs with varying degrees of success and as far as I know this hasn’t had an adverse effect on Pakistan’s human population.

The truth of the matter is that a society that is kinder to animals will simply be kinder all round. Conversely, a society where the welfare of animals is perceived not just as a luxury but an actual source of outrage is the one where this impulse for cruelty will spill over to humans and most adversely affect them too.

People who torture animals are in many cases simply working their way up to inflicting pain on other people. See that child trying to cut off a dog’s ears?

That’s the one I nominate as being most likely to beat his wife senseless as he grows older. If you lack empathy for living creatures, well then you just lack empathy, and I have little faith in you not lacking it for people less powerful than yourself. It’s also worth noting that of the many people who’ve sanctimoniously told me off for thinking about dogs when people are dying are, without a single exception, doing nothing about people dying other than tweeting about it.

People who actually work for the welfare of humanity know better, and realise that suffering is merely suffering, regardless of what it’s inflicted on and that if one is to have any hope of living in a gentler, sympathetic environment, it must involve a more ethical relationship between man and beast. Otherwise there’s really no difference between the two, except for the fact that a dog is more loyal by nature and also less likely to torture a human being just for kicks while concurrently attempting to retain the moral high ground.

Faiza Sultan Khan

A vet day day ahead

‘Years ago when I was younger in my profession, a maid who used to work in our house found out that I was a vet and asked my wife if I made enough money, “Guzara hojata hai”? chuckled Dr Abrar Pirzada as he injected Penzy, a seven-year-old Siamese cat who had been neutered rather late, much to Pirzada’s chagrin.

Twenty years after his maid’s earnest enquiry, Pirzada is now one of the most respected names in veterinary care for smaller animals.

“I emphasise on neutering so much because nearly every female cat develops cysts and uterine infection. Through the years I have learnt that a cat repeatedly showing symptoms of heat and being irritable has a cyst. Instead of a regular procedure, it blows up into an emergency. Neutering adds many healthy years to your cat’s life”, he says.

Pirzada did his first cyst-removal surgery 14 years ago. “It was of TV actor Sania Saeed’s Siamese cat, Raw,” he recalled. “At that time I had started my practice and more people had dogs and thought that I was a specialist vet for dogs. Now it is the reverse, more people have cats. The reason is that dogs are expensive to feed. Half to one kilo of beef a day plus milk and medical care adds up. Now, people think I am a specialist vet for cats.

“Dog-owners tend to have a different attitude from cat-owners. Servants and hired help bring dogs to the clinic, while cat-owners are very hands on,”

Pirzada said. As if on cue a Suzuki pick-up pulls over in front of the clinic and Pirzada walks out to examine Max and Tiger, the two beautiful German Shepherds who have been ferried in it.

Dr.Pirzada examining Max and Tiger. - Courtesy Photo
Dr.Pirzada examining Max and Tiger. - Courtesy Photo

“There is a difference when you do something yourself and when you instruct a servant to do it. Obviously, it won’t be done with the same love and compassion. In many cases the servants even resent the dogs for having better living conditions.

When dog owners become too busy they just give away the animal or sell it off without any regard for the animal’s feelings. If only animals could speak!” he says with a shake of the head.

Habitat is important for all animals. “In Pakistan if they cannot be kept inside due to religious reasons then they should have a proper kennel. Instead they are kept in dirty outdoor environments with flies which are lethal for dogs. In a second, a fly can lay an egg on a little scratch and maggots will develop.”

A chocolate-coloured Labrador is then brought in for a check up. “This colour is rare and fetches a high price,” says Dr. Pirzada as he gives the dog an expert once-over.

“Pedigree dogs are a status symbol. On the other hand, many cat owners coming to my clinic have adopted strays as pets instead of going for pedigreed ones.”

Suddenly one sees another dimension of the clinic, as a meeting place, as the clinic is now bustling with Siamese and Persian cats, huge German Shepherds, a Springer spaniel, a couple of Golden Retrievers, a very sad looking pug and their owners — some distraught, others happy to meet their fellow pet-owner friends.

“Cats add order to our otherwise chaotic lives,” announces Nusrat Nasrullah, a renowned journalist who walks in carrying a wad of money and registration books for his seven cats: Kajal, Mottoo, Laddoo, Cherry, Cheekoo, Bunty and Milo. Pirzada had vaccinated them at Nasrullah’s home and he had come in to get the treatment documented and to settle bills.

Amidst a veritable zoo of pets and their quirky owners, Pirzada sat down to have a cup of tea. “I became a vet because I was inspired by my father who established the pet clinic in 1964. Even when people advise me to go to Dubai where just the consultation fee is as expensive as pet medicine here, I am content to be in Pakistan. Although some people think that since being vets is our family business, we must own at least half of Karachi!” he quipped, a reference to the amount of money some people think he makes. The reality, he says, is quite different.

“Being a pet vet is not as lucrative a business as being in livestock and poultry which the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree from our universities is designed for. Currently there are about 250 vets in Karachi but most of them are not working with pets. Even then the profession is still looked down upon, and many vets still get embarrassed about being an animal doctor or ‘danggar doctor’.

Then there is people’s attitude towards animals. “Pakistan is not an animal-friendly country. If there are four people in the family, at least two will hate the animal. In the US, a family will love the pet a hundred per cent”.

Obtaining medicines is one of the biggest challenges for vets in Pakistan. “For every legitimate medicine brand there are two fake ones. We usually use human medicine because pet medicines are expensive, not locally manufactured and aren’t feasible for distributors to import.

A 100ml oral rehydration salts (ORS) for animals will cost you Rs800 whereas the cheaper alternative is a sachet of ORS for humans for only Rs5. For certain infections, antibiotic injections and vaccinations, we cannot administer human medicine as a cat cannot be injected every six hours. Pet antibiotic injections work for longer.

“We are trying to grow in terms of introducing new technology or develop into a hospital or a complex but the law and order situation in the country hardly allows an environment for progress. As the political and economic conditions grow worse, we are becoming backward.

“When I was young, my father (who still works at the pet clinic in KDA area) used to open the door even at 2.00am in the night if someone turned up with a pet emergency. Today I would not open my door because times have changed”.

Fouzia Nasir Ahmad

Love me, love my horse

“It was a hot day, with temperatures rising to 40 degrees Celsius … A baby buffalo and an old woman were taking refuge in the shade of a small thorny devi bush … Most of the men had taken their livestock out to graze in the nearby fields … Women would walk far to the nearest watering hole to fetch murky water for their families and the smaller animals that were too young to walk to the water themselves. We saw a woman by the roadside pouring water on her buffalo’s head to keep it cool.”

These were some of the heartbreaking scenes reported by the volunteer teams organised by PAWS (Pakistan Animal Welfare Society) during the devastating floods of 2010.

“The care and concern of the people for their animals was evident … Some hadn’t received any relief goods from the government authorities themselves, yet were busy making sure their remaining animals survive”.

Courtesy Photo
Courtesy Photo
People who had lost all their belongings and barely had enough to eat were putting the needs of their livestock first; even non-revenue generating animals like pigeons were taken care of. Because if there’s one thing nature teaches people who live closest to it, it is that the wellbeing of animals is crucial for a healthy society.

As one of the leading organisations fighting for animal welfare, PAWS led efforts to provide treatment and food for the large number of livestock affected by the floods; they then followed up with an income generating programme for widowed women by providing them with goats. Every woman who received a goat has to enter into an agreement to send her children to school using the income generated by selling the goats’ milk, butter, etc thus the welfare of her livestock becomes a measure of her prosperity.

According to Dr Sher Nawaz of Brooke, an international animal welfare organisation working in Pakistan since 1991,

“Lack of knowledge and a poor attitude are some of the main problems leading to animal neglect and suffering.”

Brooke has been working closely with a number of low-income communities in Karachi to improve the plight of working animals, mainly donkeys, mules and horses.

“Owners often have no idea how much water to give their animals; they did not know how to care for their wounds or the importance of proper foot care. Our mobile units provide training sessions for owners as well as farriers, fodder providers, etc. to raise awareness and improve attitudes.” According to Dr Sher attitudes have changed and the bond between animals and their owners have become deeper thanks to these sessions.

According to Mahera Omar, co-founder PAWS, the wellbeing of working animals and livestock is one aspect; even the health of stray dogs and cats is directly related to the wellbeing of the entire community.

“India has an official policy whereby stray dogs are neutered, not shot. This will eventually lead to a smaller, healthier population of strays and contribute to disease control,” she believes.

The Brooke team also works with school children to inculcate a sense of animal welfare among the new generation; hopefully, learning to care for our fellow living creatures will eventually help us become better human beings.

Shagufta Naz

It’s chemistry!

Imagine anxious looking cats, canines, horses, donkeys, goats, birds and even turtles taking a cup or bottle behind the screen or to one of the cubicles. Or extending a limb reluctantly for the pathologist to fasten a tourniquet around before extracting a sample of blood, bizarre? Not really.

You may have found people or even yourself many times at a diagnostic lab in this situation for getting the tests that your doctor ordered, but have you ever seen your pets doing the same? The answer would be ‘no’ because there are hardly any diagnostic laboratories for pets in Pakistan. And if there are, there are very few who know about them.

Veterinarians usually rely on their own judgment, without ordering any x-rays, ultrasounds or other tests when treating a pet. But just like in human medicine, these diagnostic procedures are a necessary part of animal medicine as well.

Since there are only a few diagnostic laboratories for pets, when the need arises, the vets send the samples from pets to the labs meant for humans. According to a small animals vet in Karachi, “Well, none of the labs we send the samples to — AKU, Sindlab, Tabani’s — have had any problem testing them for us”.

But Dr Muhammad Anis Tabani, who runs a diagnostic lab for pets in Karachi’s Gizri area, opposite PNS Haider, says that animal pathology is different from human pathology. “So the instruments being used to test human samples don’t provide accurate results for animals,” he explains.

“Human cell diameter is different from that of animals, even though they are also mammals. For example, there was this dog suffering from recurring bacterial infections and was being taken to this vet for three years. She would send the dog’s samples to a normal lab and prescribe medicines for him according to the results obtained from there.”

Eventually, people discovered the animal-specific lab facility.

“People love their pets and keep their eyes and ears open for anything that can benefit the little dears. When the dog’s owners heard about our lab, samples were brought to us. That was when the right medicine was prescribed based on our results and the dog is hale and hearty now,” Dr Tabani elaborates.

Dr Tabani’s lab, which was initially a normal diagnostic lab for humans now has two branches, one that focuses on animals and the other for humans. “It is a crime to deal with both humans and animals in the same facility. Therefore, we have moved the human pathology lab to Nazimabad. And we are moving from main Gizri to a bigger place on 10th Gizri Street. It is a 300 yards plot with a radiology section with x-ray and ultrasound, and another section for a pathological lab. We are thinking about calling it the Tabani Veterinary Diagnostic Centre,” he tells us.

“Besides normal domestic pets, we provide our services to the zoo and Safari Park as well. A private owner has white lions who we also helped. So the demand is definitely there. We felt we could do it, so we took the initiative years ago. There is of course room for many more similar labs all over the country,” he says.

The only facility working on parallel lines is the laboratory that works with large animals and livestock such as cows, buffaloes, goats, etc., with another section concentrating on poultry. It has a smaller offshoot in Karachi’s Korangi area while the head office is located in Tando Jam.

Shazia Hasan