Lessons from the US: Be kind to animals!
I was criticised for my concern for animals because apparently, in Pakistan only caring about humans is acceptable.
The first time I fell in love, I was a mere child. My first love was not a person but the numerous animals surrounding me, and as I grew older, this love and interest in the animal kingdom only grew.
Hence, it was no surprise to anyone that my favourite television programme was the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to All Animals (SPCA) documentary on the Animal Planet channel. SPCA is an NGO based in the United States which works for animal rights and raises its voice against cruelty to animals. Their television program showed animal activists trying to find, save and protect animals from cruelty and abuse in the city. It always intrigued me to see the efforts these individuals put in to protect our furry friends and I used to marvel at the nobility of this cause.
With such a passion for animals and animal rights, my dream was to work for the SPCA and actually see how they operated. Hence, while visiting my brother in Baltimore, I took a trip to Maryland SPCA, which is the SPCA branch operating mainly as a shelter for dogs and cats. I had a few days left before returning to Pakistan and so I applied as a volunteer at the shelter.
On orientation day, the manager explained to us that the animals housed in the facility had either been given up by their owners or had been abandoned. He also told us that the Baltimore SPCA had a “No Kill Policy” which meant that animals were sheltered and cared for, until they were adopted.
As I worked at the shelter, I saw that when these homeless animals were first brought to the SPCA, they received a thorough physical check-up and were given medical treatment depending on their ailment. Treatment could include anything from checking for injuries to rabies shots; from neutering to spraying for ticks and fleas. I was amazed at these services offered to animals; these dedicated individuals had taken the term ‘animal care’ to a whole new level.
Once the animals had undergone check-ups and were treated for infections and so forth, they were listed for adoption, another detailed and stringent process. SPCA scrutinised the adopter’s background and personality thoroughly because they had to be absolutely certain that the adopter was compatible with the pet and vice versa. Even the smallest of details were assessed, for example, if the adopter lived on rent, even his landlord would be asked whether he had any objection to animals!
A personal counsellor would then, finalise the documentation. Maryland SPCA has a 30-day return policy, which allows the shelter, adopter and pet to assess compatibility levels, and in case of incompatibility, the animal can be returned to the shelter.
During my time working at the shelter, I found that SPCA workers worked devotedly and tried to find a loving and caring home for every animal present on their facility and hence, the adoption rate was very high. To my surprise, the SPCA team informed me that they had operated in Karachi as well during the 1980s under Lady Constantine. However, unfortunately soon after her death, the organisation’s offices and properties had been seized by the government and the organisation ceased to exist in Pakistan.
My few days spent with the SPCA were phenomenal and I learnt extensively about animal care and their rights.
Consequently, this experience made me think about stray or homeless animals in our country, particularly from the canine and feline population, which seem to live the most catastrophic lives , often dying either by being hit by a car or from starvation. It saddens me immensely when I think about these poor animals.
Hence during my journey back home, I started thinking about launching an initiative similar to the SPCA in Pakistan. I pondered over how this can be accomplished and began to list genuine donors and proponents of animal rights who could help further my cause.
On my return, I also read up on different animal cruelty laws in Pakistan such the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1890, which could help me implement this idea practically and create awareness about the issue. However, in spite of laying the groundwork for this initiative, with the help of my father and his colleagues, there are still many hurdles which need to be crossed. I have been criticised by many, with arguments such as, concern for animals is a secondary issue and seems inconsiderate in a country where humans are deprived of basic amenities and live under constant peril. However, for me, animals are on an equal ground to humans, as they are living creatures that need care as well; and therefore, I continue to work for the woes of the animal kingdom.
Many of us don’t give a second thought to the pain these innocent beings bear each day. However, if we realised that with the smallest of efforts we could help in healing an animal and provide a loving home for it, then I believe we could encourage more people to pursue and support this cause.
Nevertheless, it is heartening for me to see that there are many individuals and organisations in Pakistan who work zealously to improve animal rights in the country such as the Animal Care Association Pakistan, Pakistan Animal Welfare Society and Edhi Animal Shelter which are driving campaigns to alert people to the cause. However, I personally believe that if the standards of Maryland SPCA are to be replicated in Pakistan, a lot of work needs to be done and a major part of that work is about creating more awareness and changing mindsets regarding this issue.