My love of animals is perhaps genetic in nature, inherited from my father, who had a strange power over all things wild. Many of the books that I bought as a child and then as a teenager concerned beasts, birds and fishes. This passion continues to date with Gerald Durrell and James Herriot holding places of honour on my bookshelf.

Interacting with animals or simply observing their behaviour is a revealing hobby that has the potential to change human perceptions. My experiences have led me to the conclusion that non-human species are not only intelligent, but have character. Animals show emotion as expressively as do homo sapiens.

Take for example my cat, who displays happiness, grief, panic and pain through her eyes and body language. She loves the outdoors and we have a lot on our hands to stop her from straying away from home without supervision. Closed doors couldn’t stop her since she found a way to slide gauze covered windows open and when these were secured, she did not waste much time in improvising her escape. This rather well-fed feline would back away some distance from the gauze door, take a running leap and use the impact to push the ‘obstacle’ open. We have now begun bolting all our outer exits to stop this from happening.

Our golden retriever practiced the art of emotional blackmail to perfection. She would walk up to her victim, place her neck on the desired knee and look up with a pair of liquid eyes that were impossible to resist. She always got what she wanted by resorting to these tactics. Past her middle age, she developed a tumour which required some tricky surgery and reconstruction work. The vet called me to say that she was in a bad shape and her prognosis was poor. I rushed to the clinic, where a wet nose poked through the cage and I clearly saw her eyes suddenly regain their twinkle. Two days later, I brought her home to an astonishing recovery. For days afterwards, she never left my side as if afraid that we would be separated once again.

Lilly, our mongrel, was ugly and competed unsuccessfully with the rest of her kind, who had pedigree. Her attempts to woo our affection were construed as ‘mongrel behaviour’ until what can only be termed as jealousy forced her to ‘scrapping’ with other canines. Things reached a point when my parents decided to get rid of her. Attempts to get her adopted failed as she would return to us after breaking out of her new homes. In a desperate bid, she was driven to the outskirts of Sheikhupura and abandoned by our driver. Three days later a bedraggled and bloody Lilly was found entering our drive. We don’t know how she had managed to navigate back except the fact that she had given us an abject lesson in loyalty. Things changed for this ‘underdog’ thereafter, as she became my mother’s favourite pet. What amazed us was the change this treatment brought about in this canine’s temperament. She stopped fighting with other dogs and became a model of good behaviour. Lilly lived a full fifteen years, passing the last ten of these as a pampered member of the family.

Many winters ago, I spotted an injured horse lying on the Islamabad Expressway. The animal had, in all probability, been hit by a speeding vehicle. I stopped my car and was about to get out, when another member of the equine family appeared from the trees bordering the road. I watched as the second beast walked up to its injured companion and stood over it nuzzling it and issuing plaintiff neighs, which could only be calls for help. There was no animal shelter that I could call in order to help the stricken animal and the best I could do was to call up my vet and ask him to do something. I waited at the spot helplessly, when the second animal let out a sound that embodied stark pain and grief. It then walked slowly back the way it had come. I got out of the car to discover that the fallen beast had breathed its last, perhaps at the exact moment, when its companion had issued forth the heart rending cry.

It is since that night on the road that I have taken it upon myself to deter cruelty to animals in whatever manner possible, in the hope that my message will be taken up by others to make this world a better place.