LAHORE: When animal welfare activist Iffrah Mubasher rescued Tipu, the kitten was in a shockingly bad state. “His fur was matted, and shed off in patches to the pink skin underneath,” she says.

“He was severely malnourished and dehydrated. I thought he might not last for long.”

The kitten had suffered grave neglect by its owners, a family from Gujranwala, and an animal-loving acquaintance had finally taken it from them and handed to the rescue shelter Iffrah volunteers for.

Now, Tipu is a beautiful fully grown cat, with thick white fur, and lounges around in Iffrah’s house, knowing that he is in the right place.

One can observe that the social stigma against pets and their lack of acceptance has considerably eased over the years. The trend of pet ownership has been on the rise, with more and more households having a pet animal living with them.

However few owners actually understand their pet’s needs and provide the care, physical as well as emotional, that they should. Indeed, the most discussed topic in all the popular pet groups on Facebook is the pet’s breed. There are numerous threads where someone wants to adopt a pet, but only if it is a certain breed. Which leads to the question, are pets a status symbol?

Sadly the deeper the matter is dug, the idea gains more credence. Threads where someone is putting up an animal for adoption – kittens mostly, since cats have greater acceptance as pets than dogs – the first inquiry, inevitably, is about their breed. And if the animal is a mongrel or a stray, the thread goes cold very soon.

Pedigreed animals, on the other hand, are in high demand, readily being bought and sold, often for unbelievable sums. This breed-motivated attitude of owners thus confirms that the pet culture is primarily driven not by animal love, but by status. The more expensive your pet’s breed, the greater your prestige amongst your social circle.

A pet is a mere commodity like everything else, rather than a living being with feelings that thrives on affection.

The desire for a pet is little more than a passing fancy, which doesn’t last for long once the pet has been procured. It is fussed over and flaunted for a few days, and then abandoned - either for the servants to tend, or given away for adoption – with heartless disregard for the animal’s emotional needs.

As for its physical wellbeing, one frequently hears of ugly incidents where gross, callous neglect has led to painful disease, maiming and even death, of the animal.

Iffrah herself has 63 dogs and 11 cats – all rescues. “I provide shelter to these animals, after there are rescued. Ninety percent of them are injured, or sick, or even survivors of stray killings, and sadly abandoned pets. The worst is when they have been abused by people. Those animals are not just physically hurt – they are psychologically hurt too.” She is currently building a shelter behind her house for her cats.

She relates an incident where two fully grown dogs, grown to have trusted their owners, were abandoned by them in a desolate area. Picasso and Bholu now live in Iffrah’s shelter since months, and while Picasso has made friends with her, Bholu still does not trust any human, she says.

“It’s just so sad, that they buy these beautiful dogs, and abandon them, just because they could not handle them. Such people should not buy pets.”

Vet Ahmed who has his own home visit service, says that he sees the way how different people treat their pets.

“I understand that not everyone can be an animal expert, but at least if they have a pet, they should find out more about it,” he says. “One click online can get you so much information. But people don’t bother. Those who can afford it, have their servants look after their pets. From cleaning up after them, to feeding them, or walks, I have seen mostly domestic help do these things, especially with dogs.”

But Vet Saleem says that there has always been a love for animals and it is this fondness that has helped grow the market.

Todd’s Welfare Society (TWS) run by Kiran Maheen whose main shelter is on Burki Road, is another such service. Kiran’s own dog Todd went missing one day leaving her extremely depressed. But what shocked her was when people told her to cheer up and get another.

Mistreatment and abuse of pets and animals speaks volumes about our society. Psychologist Dr Fehmida says that people who abuse or mistreat animals are more likely to be involved in domestic violence too including towards children.

A writ petition was filed last year by lawyer Izzat Fatima – about animal abuse. “Mainly the abuse is visible in a place like Tollinton Market, but if you see the abuse is everywhere,” she says.

Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2021

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