I have always had a way with animals – a legacy perhaps that has been passed down to me genetically (thanks to the Creator), from both my parents. My father had the gift of getting through to the wildest of beasts and calming them to submission, while my mother was blessed with the ability to heal creatures – both furry and feathered. Our house was always full of our own pets and animals that friends and relatives brought in. There were days, when my father would receive an urgent call from the Lahore Zoo asking him to come over and help the staff administer treatment to some creature or the other that was getting out of their control.

I remember accompanying him on one of these trips, where a ‘not so well’ pair of leopards called Noshi and Raja were unwilling to take their prescribed dose of medicine. We were received at the zoo entrance by the Curator himself, who led the way to the big cat’s cage. A crowd of onlookers had already gathered at the spot watching the keepers trying to snare the animals in nooses dangling at the end of long poles. My father was outraged at what was happening and ordered everyone away. He then walked up to the bars of the cage and began talking to the female leopard, which appeared to be the more aggressive of the pair. I watched fascinated as a miracle unfolded before my eyes - in a span of ten minutes, Noshi was nuzzling the outstretched hand that had been thrust through the bars of the animal prison. The zoo staff appeared reluctant, when the middle aged man stroking the head of the now becalmed beast asked that he be allowed inside the cage. I and the large crowd that had by now gathered there watched open mouthed as this incredible individual entered the enclosure, all the while talking to the female, who was now communicating with her mate through deep throated sounds. The bottom line to the story is that the medicine was ingested by both the animals and the hero of the whole episode left the beasts amid a round of applause from onlookers.

One of our pet dogs cut himself in a roll of barbed wire that had been carelessly left lying in one corner of the compound. In spite of treatment by the local vet, the injury became infected to the extent that maggots appeared in the festering wound. This was one of the very rare occasions when I saw my mater fly into a rage. She cleaned the wound, picking out the maggots and applied a concoction of her own creation based on turmeric mixed in mustard oil or ‘sarson ka tel.’ During the entire procedure, which must have been painful, she kept talking to the dog, which just lay there wagging its tail.

I tell my friends that animals have abilities that appear super-normal. They can not only foresee catastrophes and tragedies, but they can also sense emotions such as fear and compassion. I have been confronted with the canine species, both wild and domesticated and have avoided being harmed – not by running, throwing stones or waving a stick, but by simply standing absolutely still and not exuding the aura of fear. My friends often smirk when I tell them that this is the best defense against hostile dogs, but a recent experience and faultless execution of my theory, has converted one of my severest skeptics into a firm believer.

I must hasten to add that the above notion will only work on dogs and their kin and the only way to react when faced by an angry beast from another category would be to run for a safe haven, unless you have a little of the Dr. Doolittle in you.

n    The writer is a historian.