On October 4th, countries across the world will celebrate World Animal Day, a day where animal welfare groups, sanctuaries and individuals throughout the world hold special events to heighten public awareness of animal issues and to encourage people to think about how we as humans relate to animals.
World Animal Day was started in 1931 at a convention of ecologists in Florence as a way of highlighting the plight of endangered species. Since then it has grown to encompass all kinds of animal life. It’s a day that we in Pakistan have little to no awareness about. After all, celebratory days like Father’s Day, Mother’s Day and the truly cringe worthy Valentine’s Day have become a popular fixture in recent years only. However, World Animal Day was celebrated in Pakistan in schools and by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty against Animals till recently, though one rarely hears about such celebrations now.
As an animal lover, it is truly depressing to see how animals are treated in the country. Leopards are killed blindly, animals are used for begging and the trade of endangered species like marine turtles continues openly. Licensed vets are few and overburdened; there are barely any animal shelters and facilities for emergency care. Empress Market is flooded with stolen animal companions and animals crowded together in small cages, all for sale. Working animals are exploited and overworked, without proper harnesses and regulations to protect their rights. Stray dogs are cruelly poisoned without a care for the dogs or the effect of this mass poisoning on the environment.
Fortunately, the situation isn’t as dismal as it looks. As my interest in animal welfare increased, I came to know of Government and private institutions that are in fact doing a great deal of work for animals in Pakistan. There actually exist a number of Government run animal hospitals in Karachi, one of which is situated near the Radio Pakistan premises. Unfortunately, the hospital land is being encroached upon, and there is no full time doctor in case of emergencies. Another hospital is run by the Army in Defence. The Edhi Foundation has an animal shelter in Karachi (near Toll Plaza) and they also provide emergency care services for animals.
In Lahore, the Society for Prevention of Cruelty against Animals (SPCA) and the Brooke Hospital for Animals are doing wonderful work for animals. The SPCA has stables for horses, donkeys and facilities for other animals. Their officers travel through the city and fine donkey, horse cart owners who are exploiting their animals, confiscate them and take care of them. They also look into other cases of cruelty and neglect. In 2003, the Brooke Hospital treated over 250,000 animals in Pakistan through 23 mobile teams and eight fixed clinics.
WSPA, The World Society for the Protection of Animals, has set up sanctuaries in NWFP for the rehabilitation of brown bears, and is working to eliminate the cruel sport of bear baiting from the country. There are cat, dog, bird and animal shows that draw in huge crowds and animal enthusiasts. We finally have an answer to Animal Planet and National Geographic in the form of a weekly TV show on animals and animal care: Janu Janwar, which airs on Geo TV. We have a safari park inhabited by yaks, camels, deer and a variety of other animals.
An organization that has truly done a stupendous job in changing people’s perceptions about animal rights around the world is PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA is now influential enough to the extent that they can mobilize hundreds of people to protest against organizations, corporations and governments who are exploiting animals. This organization has stopped the use of animals in laboratory testing and cosmetic product testing, animal abuse and cruelty in the meat industry. For example, in 2000, McDonald’s agreed to require groundbreaking improvements in the treatment of the animals raised and slaughtered by its suppliers following PETA’s intensive campaign. PETA also enjoys a great deal of celebrity endorsement, the late Linda McCartney, Pamela Anderson, Alec Baldwin and Martha Stewart are some of the renowned names that come to mind.
Somehow I feel that there is a limit to what organizations working for animal welfare in Pakistan can do in the absence of awareness about animal care and rights. We have perhaps grown so accustomed to seeing working animals being abused that it has rendered us apathetic to the extent that seeing beggar monkeys, caged birds or overworked donkeys doesn’t affect us. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines speciesism as “human intolerance or discrimination on the basis of species, especially as manifested by cruelty to or exploitation of animals.” Sadly enough that is exactly how one can characterize our society’s perception of animals. But is this the kind of world that we would like our children to grow up in?
I’ve often heard people say that Pakistan is a developing country which can barely afford to take care of human beings, let alone animals. But is that really an excuse? Take the example of India, another developing country which is the most similar considering culture. India has taken huge strides, they have proper vaccination and sterilization drives, an effective stray dog control program in place and with the help of individuals like Maneka Gandhi, they have succeeded in raising awareness about animal rights in the country.
What I find truly depressing is the fact that a couple of decades ago, animal welfare was actually not an unknown concept in Pakistan. People were kinder to animals, animal newsletters were published on a regular basis, animal welfare organizations flourished and there were proper registration guidelines for people with animal companions. Most of this put in place by the British, unfortunately, Pakistan never built up on the existing framework. What happened to us along the way? Did decades of political upheaval make us forget about the furry and feathered creatures that inhabit our country? Most animal enthusiasts would find that hard to explain to their animal companions.
However, all is not lost. A new organization called the Pakistan Animal Welfare Society has been set up, whose first goal is working towards instituting a humane and effective stray dog management program in Pakistan. As animal lovers, or at the very least, as Pakistanis with a conscience, we can raise our voice against the injustice and the cruel treatment being meted out to animals, by spreading awareness by writing letters to newspapers and protesting against institutions that blindly kill animals by informing our elected representatives or animal welfare organizations. As humans it is our responsibility to speak for those who cannot do so, and this is what World Animal Day for us is all about. On such an occasion, nothing seems more befitting than Mahatma Gandhi’s oft-repeated quote:
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”