I have often been writing pieces that revolve around a unique hereditary gift in at least one member of our direct family line - the gift of connecting with animals and birds. In my generation this unique and wonderful thing fell to my lot. ‘Connecting’ by no means implies that those endowed with the ability, become real life manifestations of the Dr. Doolittle character, but it can be defined as the ability to somehow understand the creature’s body language, its pain and its wants. In return one is rewarded with trust devoid of fear – a phenomenon that is almost euphoric in nature.

My late father was often called to the Lahore Zoo by the Curator when a particularly savage or uncontrollable animal was required to be administered some veterinary treatment or the other. I have been witness to many such episodes involving a pair of leopards called ‘Noshi’ and ‘Raja’ and a male African Lion, who became docile as domesticated cats, when my father entered their cage.

Some of my most treasured friends are the local vets, who while making a living, are serving those of God’s creations, who cannot express pain and distress, the way we humans do. These creatures are mistreated, kept confined in conditions that are appalling and often abandoned without an iota of remorse.

I had till a decade ago been a ‘canine’ lover until one day, a tiny five weeks old bundle of fur snuggled into my coat with a barely audible ‘meow’. So began a love affair with felines that has grown day by day.

There is a saying to the effect that “to dogs humans are masters, but to cats they are staff”. This statement was perhaps coined by someone with a very keen sense of observation. Take the cats in my life for example – ‘Sheroo’ (God bless his soul) was a Siamese with an exaggerated sense of arrogance and ownership. In this case, I was his property and nothing could change that relationship. The end result was a divided household, led on one side by a grey and black feline and on the other by an alliance constituted by my wife and children – a team that often came out victorious in open battle.

When ‘Sheroo’ passed on to wherever good animal spirits go, at the ripe age of fourteen, I decided not to keep any more cats, little knowing that a golden Persian would shatter this resolve. Quite undone by the loss of my Siamese, ‘Ginger’ gradually adopted me in a subtle and gentle manner quite the opposite of her predecessor. Her influence on me has come to a point, where I have begun to marvel at her almost human intelligence and I get strange and alarming looks from my wife, when she catches me talking to this cat. Although an indoor pet, Ginger loves to be let out, to indulge in her favorite pastime – catching anything that flies (including to her detriment fat bumble bees). She does so by leaping high in the air and trapping the insect in both her paws in a ‘clapping’ motion. The amazing thing is that she never harms her victim. Once she has accomplished her mission, she gently releases the catch. This amazing beast has also developed a system for opening tightly shut gauze covered doors. She takes a running start and hurls herself so that the obstacle to her daily ‘insect hunt’ swings out under sheer weight multiplied by momentum – a good lesson in application of physics.

My interaction with cats has convinced me that the species has a language through which it communicates. The species modulates its ‘meows’ in a manner combined with purring and body language that every cat owner worth the name learns to interpret and respond.

I was afraid that the ‘gift’ would perhaps reach the end of the line as my son appeared least enamored with animals. Then a miracle occurred - a young woman entered my family with an even greater love of God’s creatures. My daughter in law became the trigger that set off my son’s hidden passion for animals. This young couple often drive around with a bag of dog and cat food and paper plates feeding stray members of the canine and feline family. As far as I am concerned, I can humbly thank my Creator for this gift of compassion and through this column pay a humble tribute to all those nameless men and women, who are blessed in a similar manner, anywhere in the world.