Hira Khan with a donkey she rescued| Photos by the writer
Hira Khan with a donkey she rescued| Photos by the writer

As far as she can remember, there were always pet cats, dogs and chickens in Hira Khan’s home in Hyderabad.

She was so fond of animals that, on trips to the market with her family, instead of shopping, she would be on the lookout for stray animals. On spotting them, she would do what she had seen her mother do — pick up the puppies and kittens and take them home to take care of them.

So it hardly comes as a surprise that, in 2018, Khan set up Hyderabad’s first Animal Protection Shelter, in the area of Latifabad. “It is an extension of my feelings for these innocent creatures,” says the 29-year-old who works as an accountant in a real estate company.

Earlier that year, she had started to feed strays in her neighbourhood, gradually moving on to other units of Latifabad, followed by other areas of Hyderabad such as Qasimabad and Tilak Incline.

Along with a dedicated team of volunteers, a young woman has started the first animal shelter in Hyderabad

While feeding animals, she also came across sick and injured strays. She would either bring them home for treatment and rehabilitation or take them to the vet. It wasn’t long before people began to recognise her and she became known as the ‘rescue girl’.

“On one of my rescue trips, I found an abandoned donkey whose foot was injured,” recalls Khan. “He was the first donkey I rescued. I fed him and tied him up under a tree on a street near my home. Later, when I uploaded a video on Facebook, Huzur Bux Jamali, a Tando Jam vet offered treatment and medicines free of cost.”

A banner on the shelter wall
A banner on the shelter wall

Rescuing the beast boosted her confidence and she thought that, if she could save a donkey, she could perhaps organise a dedicated space for animal protection and care. Later, that year, she mobilised some like-minded friends, organised a rescue team and started looking for a place to establish an animal shelter.

“We found land in Latifabad Unit 5,” Khan says. “The area has many cattle farms and the rent of 25,000 rupees is affordable.”

Khan’s initial investment for the 240 square yard shelter was two million rupees from her own savings. A small office was constructed and painted. The team bought a water tank, office furniture, cages, dishes, food, accessories and medical instruments. Presently, Khan spends 60,000 rupees per month to run the shelter, most of it coming from her own salary, which she can afford to do because she lives with her parents.

Seventy percent of the animals Khan’s team rescues are accident cases. “They get hit by reckless drivers in hit and run accidents,” says Khan. “After rescuing animals, we consult Dr Fahad, who comes to the shelter for emergencies, otherwise we take animals to him in Latifabad Unit 11 for treatment.”

In the last three years, the team has rescued around 1,200 animals and birds. Presently, there are 45 rescues, including dogs, cats and donkeys at the shelter. People looking for pets take away some rehabilitated animals from the shelter, which prevents overcrowding, while others animals are released back into the streets after treatment.

Inspired by their personalities or appearances, the animals are given names such as the donkeys Jack, Chocolate, Bella and Jenny, the dogs Roxy, Spike and Sheroo, and the cats Dolly and Coco. It helps identify them during their stay and treatment and to update their status on the shelter’s Facebook page, titled Animal Protection Hyderabad.

Khan spends 80 percent of her salary on the shelter. “When I decided to set up the shelter, I promised myself that I would do it at any cost,” says Khan. “If you are confident about achieving your goal, you can achieve it. My relatives disapproved, as they feel I am wasting my time and I should be doing something lucrative instead. But my friends were always there to support me and even helped me financially.”

Khan believes it was her team that made the shelter materialise. “All team members are volunteers,” says Khan. “But I arrange meals for the two team members who stay at the shelter, alternating between day and night.” One of the two who stay at the shelter also does odd-jobs outside as an airconditioning repairman, while the other is presently unemployed.

Despite being bitten by a dog in his childhood, Sandes Leghari, a young member of Khan’s team, remains on the frontline while rescuing animals from the streets.

“If you want to control any street animal, you should grab it from its neck,” says Leghari, explaining his new-found expertise. “This is where the mother picks her little one from, and it is the weakest point for controlling any animal.”

The shelter from inside
The shelter from inside

Interestingly, Khan herself has a master’s degree in botany from the University of Sindh at Jamshoro. But, instead of flora, she chose to work with animals and spends four hours daily at the shelter.

“Many people work for human rights but not for animals and birds,” says Khan. “People discourage me, don’t want to give me any credit for protecting animals, and I am accused of trying to promote myself through animals or that I am selling animals,” she adds, shaking her head at the audacity of the careless remarks people make about her.

“I have seen people hand over their sick or injured pets to the shelter,” says Dr Fahad, the shelter vet, in agreement with Khan. “It is heartbreaking to see that they don’t want those pets anymore. But what is even worse is that they don’t offer to pay for the treatment or medicines or make even a small donation.”

Rubina Sheikh, a social activist and vice president of Humanity First Foundation in Hyderabad, believes that when institutions do not fulfil their responsibilities, individuals come forward for the betterment of society.

“Every living being is important for our ecosystem, but we treat animals brutally,” she says. “Hira Khan is a courageous girl, who is trying to make our society realise that animals need care and sympathy, just the way humans do. Saving animals’ lives and providing food and shelter to them, is one of the best social services.”

For the past four years, Khan has been running the shelter on meagre resources. Keeping her fingers crossed for government support, she plans to extend the shelter’s services to other cities of Sindh, such as Tando Allahyar and Larkana.

“The earth was created for all life, not just humans,” she says as she strokes Jenny’s forelocks. The beautiful donkey Khan rescued three years ago lovingly nips at her hand, as if in affirmation.

The writer is a Sindhi fiction writer, blogger and journalist. He tweets @AkhtarHafeez

Published in Dawn, EOS, June 12th, 2022

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