In many ways 2011 was the so-called ‘year of revolution.’ These revolutions spread beyond borders; encompassed social, political and economic crises and brought about change in the world. In Pakistan, social bodies and activists hailed the bills and resolutions that were much called for in a country where the ideology of ‘rights’ remain undecipherable.
Taking cue from this wind of change, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) began working on a manual entailing the significance of animal rights, in an attempt to formulate laws to protect the ‘unprotected’, for the first time in several years. The manual includes an elaborate account of policies for protecting domestic and working animals.
The debate continues “Why waste time on animal rights when humans don’t get their rights here?” is the usual response to the idea of animal welfare or animal rights in Pakistan. Meanwhile, animal lovers and activists strive to change the mindset that makes both these issues mutually exclusive.
“We are trying to create awareness about the fact that we are all interconnected in the web of life, and the need to address different issues simultaneously is of utmost importance,” according to Mahera Omar, co-founder of Pakistan Animal Welfare Society (PAWS).
Omar reiterates the negligence towards animal rights. “In a country like Pakistan, the environment and animal welfare are often dismissed as non-issues and countered with the argument that human beings come first.”
Bringing about a behavioural change, amongst the people of Pakistan, is vital and PAWS is in the process of designing a ‘humane school kit’ to counsel students about the significance of compassion towards animals.
Plight of 'working animals' Pakistan, much like all developing countries, relies on animals for laborious tasks. Equine animals, which include horses, donkeys and mules, face the brunt of animal abuse in most of the cases.
Various myths and so-called ‘domestic treatments’ kill hundreds of animals across the country every year – ‘slit nose’ and ‘scorching the skin with metallic rods’ top the list.
Dr Sher Nawaz, a veterinary surgeon deployed at Richmond Crawford Veterinary hospital deployed by Brook Hospital for Animals (international animal welfare organisation), informed Dawn.com about the practices being employed eradicate ‘old-school treatments’ which hurt animals more.
“Slit nose is a practise which entails slitting the nostrils of animals so that ‘they are able to suck in more air’ for proper breathing. We have mobile health clinics and doctors travelling from place to place so that we can create awareness that this practise is absolutely uncalled for and has no connection with respiratory process.”
Brook Pakistan organise community sessions to create awareness against the myths endangering animals’ lives and have set up various mobile health clinics to assist the animals in need.
Dr Nawaz is optimistic of the awareness drives. “The post-community session surveys have shown a seven to eight per cent decline in nose slitting throughout the country, which is extremely positive.”
“We now plan to visit different schools so that children can be taught about animal rights and advocate the same ideology,” he added.
Animals in sports On the contrary to the working animals, animals that are frequently used in races and other equine sports are relatively better looked after by their masters. Donkeys and horses used in cart races are well fed and are taken to the veterinary doctors regularly, as they are required to compete against each other.
However, this does not include animals that are raised for fighting, such as dogs and roosters, known for the infamous fights, resulting in deaths and injuries.
Rescuing animals Pakistan is not an animal-oriented country which is why rescuing animals and providing them with appropriate shelters add to the woes of animals rights’ activists.
“When people tell us about an injured animal, we usually request volunteers or private veterinary doctors in the city to help rescue it. Once the animal has recovered, we try to find a home for it, so that the clinics continue to have space to help more animals in need. If no home is found, then that leaves us with no option but to leave the animal back where we found it,” said Omar of PAWS.
Renowned philanthropist and social worker, Abdul Sattar Edhi runs one of the biggest animal shelters in the country, which is located in the outskirts of Karachi. The shelter covers an area of four acres but is unable to provide proper treatment to the injured animals because veterinary doctors find the place ‘too far away for their comfort’.
“We run shelters for humans and have never faced any issues regarding governing such an enterprise, however, land mafia has tried to encroach on the land which is meant for animals because people in Pakistan think that this cause is not good enough to be served,” Anwar Kazmi, Edhi’s secretary, told Dawn.com
The so-called ‘animal lovers’, who generally belong to the elite section of the society, consider pets a status symbol. The more dogs one has, the richer he/she is.
“We get requests from the ‘rich communities’ to take animals away every single day. Some time these animals are only a day or two old so we refuse to take them away because a suckling needs its mother. Anyone who has basic sense would know that a day old kittens and puppies are unable to survive on their own, without their mother,” Kazmi said.
“These people do not love animals. They only keep them to show how wealthy they are.”
Pedigreed adoptions Many people who appreciate animals are very particular about well-bred, pedigreed animals. However, if everyone will adopt only a pedigreed animal then who will look after all the strays that die or get killed everyday on the streets.
PAWS, who give away the rescued animals for adoption, say the most frequently asked question is that about the animal’s breed.
“People demand Persians, Siamese, German Shepherds, Boxers, Pitt Bulls and other ‘good breeds’. But what about the all the strays? Don't they deserve our love and affection? Should we not open our hearts and minds to them as well?” said PAWS’ Omar.
Stray eradication Various municipal bodies eradicate stray animals by poisoning or shooting them, which is not only expensive but also inhumane. The best way to limit their population growth is to ensure that the streets are clean and garbage heaps are removed daily.
Moreover, catching strays and spaying or neutering them is the only ‘humane’ course of action to adopt, in order to stop them from multiplying at a rapid rate. The government should collaborate with various animal welfare societies in order to bring about an end to animal abuse to foster a better and kind society.
Animals are meant to be loved regardless of their respective breeds and people who love animals are the only hope to provide the strays with refuge and affection that they particularly deserve.
Faiza Mirza is a reporter at Dawn.com.