Caged pets

April 5, 2020

As lockdown tightens, confined animals shriek from behind closed shutters of pet shops. Activists and animal welfare organisations are prompting authorities to rescue these animals

Photo from a previous animal rights protest. — Twitter

As lockdowns intensify, there is disturbing news on social media. In big cities like Lahore, Rawalpindi and Karachi, many animals and birds have been left in pet shops with shutters drawn and markets closed. Footage of suffering animals has emerged on social media prompting animal rights activists to get in touch with the administration.

Tollin’ton Market in Lahore, Empress Market in Karachi, and College Road in Rawalpindi have a number of pet shops selling various species of birds, cats, dogs, snakes and exotic breeds. Abandoned pets too often make their way to these markets.

Anila Umair, the founder of Critters’ Ark Welfare Organization and Animal Shelter in Islamabad received a call from a friend that the sounds of animals and birds screaming and whining could be heard from pet shops in the bird market on College Road in Rawalpindi. She apprised the district commissioner of Rawalpindi of the situation and the next day, police and army personnel reached the market to get the shops opened and cleaned. The animals were fed. The shopkeepers were then told to open the shops for two hours every day. However, the owners took the healthy pets to their warehouses for ease of maintenance. Anila Umair took 19 ill cats and dogs to her shelter and put them up for adoption.

In Lahore’s Tollin’ton Market in Shadman, things weren’t very different. Ayeza Haider, of Voice of the Voiceless group approached Tabraiz Sadiq, the assistant commissioner, who also issued a notice to shopkeepers stating the shops could be opened two hours a day to feed and maintain the animals.

“We got there as soon as we heard about what was happening. Once the lockdown is over, we’ll take all stakeholders on board and devise a mechanism to take care of the animals. We will also look into any incidents of animal abuse,” says AC Sadiq.

Mian Tariq, the president of the market association, too, has urged the owners to comply with the orders.

Usra Quraishi, an animal rights activist who also runs a shelter, has rescued a number of animals while rescuers associated with Todd Welfare Society have evacuated some cats, dogs and a hen from similar shops. During the rescue, a number of animals were found dumped in the drain behind the market, presumably thrown there by the shopkeepers.

“The puppies and kittens found in the drain are usually those dumped every weekend by people who abandon them;” says Mian Tariq. “There are many meat shops in the market. The conditions may cause diseases to spread… The committee had complained to the authorities about it but nothing has happened since.”

Izzat Fatima, an advocate from Lahore, has submitted a writ petition in the Lahore High Court against animal abuse in Tollin’ton Market, donkey carts, culling of dogs, and locking of birds in cages. She says, “No one speaks for these animals. What is happening during the lockdown is the worst; no one has any idea how these animals are suffering even in ‘normal’ circumstances.”

Ayesha Chundigar too runs an animal shelter. She was one of the people who went to the Empress Market in Saddar, Karachi, when the issue surfaced. She says that when they opened the shops with help from law enforcement personnel and shopkeepers, nearly 70 percent of the animals there were dead. The remaining were in a bad shape. “After the lockdown, with help from Sindh government, we will devise standards for shop-owners who keep such animals. They need to be kept under proper protocols, and sold according to a rule book. Animals, too, have rights and people need to understand that.”

As a member of the World Organization on Animal Health and CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Pakistan needs to work on its animal rights legislation.

The writer is a staff member

Animal welfare organisations prompt authorities for rescue as coronavirus lockdown tightens