Searching for strays: Where are Pakistan's animal shelters?

Updated 30 Nov 2014


One does wish that the city’s development authority had an officially sanctioned animal shelter where kids could get their first pets. Instead, we have roaming death squads. —Creative commons
One does wish that the city’s development authority had an officially sanctioned animal shelter where kids could get their first pets. Instead, we have roaming death squads. —Creative commons

Domesticated dogs were already common in 12000 BCE, with some theories suggesting their presence as far back as 16,000 years ago. It is safe to say our companionship is as old as humanity’s recorded history.

They shepherd, hunt, guard and pull sleds, all for the price of food, shelter, and a little love.

A few months ago, perhaps as a byproduct of having seen too much Cesar Millan on NatGeo, I decided to adopt and raise a puppy.

After some research and serious thinking, I came to like the Pit Bull breed.

  An American Pit Bull.—Photo: Creative Commons.
An American Pit Bull.—Photo: Creative Commons.

People said they were a handful, but I figured I was too manly to let a little thing like a dog equivalent of a tank deter me. So, I researched some more about the right age, ideal health, structure, etc. and set out to find one.

It was a sad realisation that a mere handful of breeders actually knew what they were doing. Some charge criminal amounts and are generally unreliable. But, I’ll skip that part for now.

What's more important is that at this point, a good friend of mine pointed me towards the advantage of rescuing a stray puppy off the street. One, they are better acclimated to the environment (leading to better immune systems and more tolerance of extreme weathers). Two, he said, you would be doing a good deed.

Also read: People urged to adopt stray animals instead of fancy breeds

My friend also pointed out that just because it's a street dog does not make it any less beautiful. Some of them actually look as gorgeous as any pure breeds.

I thought to myself, I'm certainly up for it. And stray puppies can’t be hard to find, right? All I’d have to do is stand on the side of a road for four minutes and I’d have one. If I waited a minute more, I’d have choices.

Unfortunately, no, it wasn’t that easy.

There were numerous reports of stray puppy sightings, but no confirmations that I could make. I once even drove around all of Islamabad just to find a puppy. I found one grownup stray dog, and that was it.

The handful I did eventually see were traveling as a family. My wife reminded me that I would be separating a pup from its mother, also known as abduction, so I let them be.

A quick Google search told me that though there do exist a few animal rescue services, they are available mostly in major cities and they tend to have more cats than dogs. There is the Bahria Animal Rescue Foundation in Islamabad and the Pakistan Animal Welfare Society operating out of Karachi (amongst others) who are doing what they can, and there are numerous individuals doing their part, but they are even harder to find than the puppies themselves.

Also read: Breaking the cycle of animal abuse

My search also led me to Lahore’s Tollinton market, where pets were as abundant as there were cheating businessmen. They were trying to pawn off abducted strays as breeds. If you’re not an expert, a clear coloured stray and a Labrador aren’t that different from one another.

Shopkeepers make all kinds of promises and guarantees of the dogs’ pure breeds, but I can’t imagine them taking responsibility once the dog grows up and you realise that you’ve been gypped. Moreover, their treatment is cruel: pups sleep in filthy environments, have their cages kicked constantly when a potential customer comes in. It was a place to actively avoid.

  Labrador puppies.—Photo: Creative Commons
Labrador puppies.—Photo: Creative Commons

The thing is that dogs are pack animals. Traditionally accustomed to living in dens owing to their wolf origins. Mothers will hide their pups in places similar to dens where their scent cannot be picked up by potential predators. This means they will be found in sewers, abandoned buildings, isolated areas just at the outskirts of human habitat, etc. Mothers go out and nourish themselves, then come back and feed the pups, until they are strong enough to forage with her.

Read on: Animal welfare – a long way from home

Sometimes, given the curious nature of puppies, one or two will stray from their dens while the mother is away; they don’t always return. Or, more commonly and quite unfortunately, as it so happens everywhere traffic is found, some mothers don’t make it back to their puppies.

These puppies are unlikely to see adulthood. If you are interested in finding yourself a puppy, rescue one of these. Even if you would have to look hard to find them.

If it is your first puppy, make sure you take along someone who knows about dogs, so they can tell you if the dogs are indeed abandoned or if their mothers are absent temporarily. You can’t know for sure, but if the puppies appear healthy and well fed, then the mother is probably around.

Even though purebreds have temperaments and habits that make them more adept at certain situations, with just a tinge more effort, you can raise any dog about the same. It all comes down to understanding the nature of the animal.

Explore: Pets on wheels

Some people raise docile Pit Bulls and bulldogs, while others raise aggressive Labradors — it’s all about the kind of effort you want to put in. If you want your dog to be the textbook definition of a dog, you’ll have to put in a few months of effort. The outcome is worth it though.

I do wish though that the city’s development authority had an officially sanctioned animal shelter where kids could get their first pets. Instead, we have roaming death squads (much more common in smaller cities).

If you have a special affinity towards a pure breed, then by all means, go for it (you probably already know what I’ve just said).

However, if all you want is a pet to play with and to keep you safe, you should definitely consider rescuing one off the street.