KARACHI: “It’s like losing a child,” said Tushna Kandawalla, her family traumatised, after losing two Labrador puppies, Luna and Nike, aged five and nine months respectively, having ingested poison, on February 8.

“My son had let them out in the garden to run after lunch, as was the regular practice. An hour later shortly after bringing the younger one in she started having seizures and was a limp heap.” The same happened to the other one. “We rushed them to the vet but Luna died after 10 minutes; Nike fought for her life for 12 more hours, but after having numerous seizures, she, too, gave up,” said Kandawalla, who lives in Block 5 of Clifton, which falls under DMC South.

“The vet said these were typical symptoms of dog having consumed poison,” she said, although no post-mortem examination was carried out to ascertain this claim.

However, she said that earlier that week, at least four dead eagles had fallen into their compound. “We have tall coconut trees where these big birds nest, but never before have they fallen in our garden,” she said.

And that is not all. Five street dogs were found dead inside a nearby park, and another one barely alive, the same day Kandawallas’ dogs had died.

“All of them were collared, neutered and vaccinated!” said animal lover Tipu Sharif, an actor and resident of the same area, who has been feeding, taking care of the sick and wounded, vaccinating and neutering/spaying some 250 homeless cats and dogs now for 12 years.

“It was heart-breaking to see Raju writhing in so much pain,” he said having given many stray dogs names. “I don’t cry easily, but I could not contain myself,” he said.

“In the last three weeks, he said he found out that 23 dogs, including pets, had died, in Block 5. “Of these 80pc were sterile,” he said, refusing to term these deaths as coincidences, but said he had no proof who could be the culprit.

Growing population of stray dogs

“There is a lot of pressure on the administration to do something about the growing population of 500,000 stray dogs across Sindh (a majority in Karachi), on the one hand, and animal rights activists/ lovers on the other, to not harm the homeless animals,” admitted Junaid Iqbal Khan, additional deputy commissioner-I, South-Karachi.

The method of poisoning stray dogs is not ‘sanctioned’ anymore, he added.

“Our sanitation workers are specially told not to harm any collared dog,” he said.

In addition, he pointed out, it was “highly improbable that the deaths in Block 5 were caused by local government workers”.

“To control the stray animal population, they need to be spayed/neutered and naturally the population will come down,” pointed out Kandawalla.

District South is working with the teams of Rabies Free Pakistan (RFP). “We have offered government veterinarian facilities for training of RFP staff and for vaccination and neutering surgeries and have also requested the CBC and DMC representatives to [attend] our meetings to get some sort of coordination going,” said Khan, who serves this district.

‘Neighbours should care about stray animals’ In addition, Kandawalla said clear laws need to be passed on handling of stray animals.

“Killing them in this manner should be deemed a criminal act!” she said.

But more importantly, she added, neighbours need to take responsibility for the stray animals in their areas and look after them.

Since the deaths of the dogs, Sharif, along with some animal rights activists have visited the offices of Cantonment Board Clifton, the Karachi Municipal Corporation as well as district South and spoken with government officials to find a solution, but was only disappointed.

“I’m not saying the government is killing the animals by poisoning them,” said Sharif, but he added that each office he and his friends visited, they were shown a huge pile of complaints against stray dogs.

He suggested bringing about change in the next generation through schools and how to make the kids more “humane towards animals”.

“We need a critical mass of animal lovers to build a humane society that is willing to give space to homeless animals.”

Meanwhile, the Kandawallas are contemplating getting another pet.

“Luna and Nike were my sons’ first ever pets and you cannot imagine how they helped all of us go through the pandemic,” she said.” In addition, having an animal in the house brought a huge positive change in her sons, she noticed. “They became empathetic and responsible!” she said.

Her only worry is what if the same tragedy befalls again. “The dogs were in our premises, does it mean I now keep the pets indoors to ensure their safety and not allow them to play in our lawn?”

Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2021

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