My friends tell me that if I had not taken up three careers, one of which was media, I would have spent a better part of my life as a vet or an animal right’s activist. I tend to agree with this notion since my love for four legged creatures and birds is something that is perhaps a part of my genetic code. My father had it to the extent that he was often requested to visit the Lahore Zoo to help the staff with a difficult inmate. His extraordinary powers manifested themselves especially around dogs and cats including the big ones in the zoo. His resonance with animals was such that I featured him in a long ago column titled ‘The Beast Master’. I consider myself fortunate to have inherited a small part of my old man’s legacy and am happy that it has been passed on to my son and my grandson.

Animals are living creatures possessing a soul and therefore feel emotion as we do – fear, pain, anger, love and above all, the will to survive. These emotions are reflected in their facial expression, their body language and most importantly their eyes. I have known them to weep, stop eating and become listless just as humans. Their response to succour is nothing short of amazing. I have seen some injured or sick animals become compliant, when undergoing treatment as if they understand the good intentions of those helping them recover or even save their life. Those that claw and bite do so because they are scared and under severe trauma. I know a certain vet, who speaks to his patients, successfully calming them down before proceeding with whatever needs to be done. I remember this wonderful man telling me with an ever present twinkle in his eyes that my cat with a dislocated shoulder had instantly recovered because he had exercised his powers over the feline species being their ‘peer’.

It was somewhere in the late 1950s that we had adopted a stray puppy, which had limped into our compound. My mother fed it as it grew into an unattractive black mongrel female named Lilly. Two attempts to abandon her as far as Sheikhupura (under pressure from my grandmother) failed as this amazing creature found her way home. It was when she dragged herself onto our drive (after her last abandonment) with a lacerated leg that my mother put her foot down. She dressed the dog’s injuries and when one of them became acutely infected with maggots, pulled out the repulsive looking things, cleaning the cavity with hydrogen peroxide. In a few weeks Lilly acquired a glossy coat and became everyone’s (not my grandma’s) favourite. It was after her recovery that she became grossly attached to my mother, following her around, sleeping at her feet and even growling at anybody, who in her opinion was threatening her mistress, who had cured her and relieved her pain.

It was somewhere – in the 1980s that a golden retriever named Jenny entered our lives and captivated us all. Her face was like an open book, where every emotion could be read loud and clear. When she needed something, she would trot up her favourite member of the family and rest her neck on the thigh, with her face turned up and her liquid amber eyes saying much more than words could describe. She developed a huge cancerous growth in her reproductive system and had to undergo radical surgery. This was the time, when we saw her weep – real tears streaming out of her liquid eyes. When we went to look her up, after successful removal of the tumour, we could see a happy grin spreading from ear to ear accompanied by a thumping tail.

The ultimate question is, if we humans (read Pakistanis) are doing enough for animals in terms of care and protection. The answer is a definite no. Some work has been done in the private sector, but nothing at the government level. What we need are better veterinary hospitals, better vets and a law with penalties for cruelty against animals – what we need is a potent SPCA with powers of arrest and prosecution.

 

The writer is a historian.