Ardeshir Cowasjee, who does not need any introduction, during one of his many interviews, said that “this country was founded by people who loved animals, specifically dogs”. The famous picture of Quaid-e-Azam, playing with his black Doberman and white West Highland Terrier, is clearly plastered in the memories of many people who adore animals. Unfortunately, present-day Pakistan is governed by people who either do not appreciate the beauty of animals or are indifferent to their plight, which is why places such as pet markets, where animals are kept in heinous conditions for sale, thrive.
The beauty of Empress Market, which remains a tourist attraction and a delight for art lovers all across the globe, camouflages all that lies within. Inside the labyrinthine market, there are streets where animals are kept, bought and sold. There is nothing wrong with selling or buying animals, however, the deplorable state in which these animals are kept is abhorrent!
An animal lover myself, the zoo and Empress Market remained the two most fascinating places growing up. However, as a child I did not realise the dreadful condition these animals are kept under, in both the aforementioned places.
One day, in a bid to revisit the fond memories of my childhood, I visited Empress Market’s animal shops only to find out what I had already dreaded.
An “animal concentration camp” is an apt enough description of the condition in which countless cats, dogs, chicks and exotic birds are kept at Empress Market. Amidst the vegetable market are many shops where various animals as young as a few weeks old cry all day long for the sanctuary of their mothers. The cages are packed with kittens, chicks and puppies so much so that there is no room for proper ventilation. Many of the shops have secret chambers where emaciated baby jackals, partridges, owls and other exotic animals are kept without a morsel of food and water.
Most of the animals are chained and caged under direct sunlight, panting from the heat. Dogs, deprived of affection and food, yelp constantly for attention. In an effort to look for a shop where the living conditions for animals was slightly better I met a chota or an underling of the shopkeeper, who on condition of anonymity said, “I am sure you can evidently see what all is going on in this market. I do not have to describe anything; however, I must say that the dogs are treated worse than all other animals. Most of the time when a puppy or a dog is severely sick, instead of taking it to a veterinarian, it is left to ‘recuperate’ on its own.”
There are incurable diseases in which one has to get animals euthanised but what these shopkeepers do is that they release such animals out in the open, leaving them to die a frightful death,” he added.
The truth in his statement was confirmed when I saw a pile of dead puppies lying in a rubbish heap a few meters away from the shop. The decaying remains of dogs, which are considered the most faithful companions, shook me to the core.
I thought the sight of rotten dead puppies was the worst that the market had to offer me; however, I was very sadly mistaken. A few yards away I saw a German shepherd, who had defecated in the cage he was kept in, lying lifeless with filth all over and around him. Unable to curtail my anger I looked for the shopkeeper and demanded justification to which he conveniently said “it is being treated; you should have came later in the afternoon and seen how well these animals are looked after.”
Hearing this I directed his attention to the aforementioned dog, on which he immediately threw a bucket full of sand. Another shopkeeper, adamant to prove his love for animals, brought out expired packets of animal food and powder used for killing cockroaches and bed bugs for the animals’ fleas and ticks.
Disgusted by what I had just witnessed, I ran to the Sindh Wildlife Department to report the animal abuse. Sindh Wildlife Conservator, Saeed Baloch said, “I know that they sell endangered animals and that are very cruel to them. We raid their shops and there are times when we capture partridges, woodpeckers and other birds and release them into their own habitat. However, this network of animal shopkeepers is so strong that the minute our inspection team enters Empress Market, everything ‘illegal’ is either gone or hidden.”
I refuse to accept that the deplorable state of affairs can escape anyone’s notice as the cruelty is immensely widespread. The only plausible solution to prevent people from abusing animals is to deploy animal cops at places where animals are kept, bought and sold. The trade of animals should be monitored by representatives of the Wildlife Department and officers should be present to ensure animal welfare during the operational hours of any such market.
Another heinous aspect that keeps this cycle of animal abuse running is the fact that most of us believe that in a country where human rights are nonexistent, talking about animal rights is an unpardonable offence. Animal abusers continue with this cruelty because there is not penalty. According to the sources, the Wildlife Department may fine and lodge an FIR against shopkeepers who keep wild animals; however, there is no rule for protecting domestic animals such as dogs, parrots and cats.
Shahabuddin Burfat, Karachi Honourary Game Warden, said, “We can take action against people who violate rules and regulations related to wildlife but there is no regulatory body to look after domestic animals. Having said that, I would also like to request people to report cases of animal abuse, to the wildlife authorities, as much as possible. Constant reports might urge the government to establish a committee for the protection of domestic and working animals.”
Unless we develop a sense of protecting animals and reprimand people who are cruel towards them, the cycle of abuse will never break. Reporting abuse to the authorities might appear to be a futile exercise; however, it is important to bring animal cruelty into the notice of people who are in a position to offer help. Animal abuse of all kinds, including animals used for fighting, whilst working and captivity must be reported to the authorities, regardless of what the outcome might be.
I refuse to believe that our country is dominated by people who are unkind to animals. It is just that the heavy majority, which appreciates and loves animals, is silent and has unfortunately become apathetic. We must realise that if we’re not kind to animals, we’re a very long way from becoming kind to people. The plight of these animals deserves to be heard, so let’s give them a voice.