Creating awareness about animal rights is a crucial step towards ensuring safe and liveable environments for animals
A few days ago I visited Tollington Market in Shadman to purchase bird feed. It is a monthly ritual: go straight to the shop, buy the feed and leave immediately. I don’t stay there for long as I don’t have the heart to see the way in which animals are kept there. But this time I lingered and clicked a few pictures for social media as World Animal Day approached on October 4.
Soon after I began taking pictures, I heard a cat howling, struggling to get free from a salesman. After scratching him on the arm, the cat jumped, ran and bumped into me. I picked it up immediately without taking its health status into account. It just clung to my neck and refused to budge. It trembled. After it had calmed down, I asked the salesman why the cat was behaving in that manner; to which he refused to respond. When I tried to put it down, it started howling again and refused to go to the shopkeeper. Since I already have a cat and a dog at home, I could not take it home. Reluctantly, I left the cat with the salesman.
Since then I’ve not been at peace; this incident has kept haunting me.
Tollington Market is a living hell for many animals. There is no sanitation, health facilities or decent living standards. Animal rights activists have made many suggestions to the government on how to improve living conditions for these animals. They have even taken the court route to put an end to this barbarianism, but laws don’t come into existence easily; those that do exist are not enforced in their true spirit. Such markets can be found all over the country and need to be regulated to prevent animal abuse, unsafe sale of animals and spread of diseases.
For the last 90 years, the world has been celebrating the Animal Day. In 1925, Heinrich Zimmermann – a German writer and publisher of the magazine Mensch und Hund (Man and Dog) – first gave the proposal for observing an Animal Day. It was celebrated in Berlin for the first time on March 24. In 1929 it was moved to October 4. In 1931, Animal Day was globalised at a world animal protection organisation conference in Florence, Italy. It seems the importance of this day has not been fully understood in Pakistan though, as not much improvement has been seen in the living standards of animals here.
Plant and animal kingdoms play an important role in not only our lives but also in keeping balance of the ecosystem intact. It is important to remember how each species of animals: insect, reptiles etc, has a role to play in the larger scheme of things and it is for us to preserve, protect and give them a favourable environment to do so. Sir David Frederick Attenborough, a nature historian and researcher says: “There are some four million different kinds of animals and plants in the world; four million different solutions to the problems of staying alive.”
Plant and animal kingdoms play an important role in not only our lives but also in keeping balance of the ecosystem intact. It is important to remember how each species of animal, insect, reptiles etc, has a role to play in the larger scheme of things and it is for us to preserve, protect and give them a favourable environment to do so.
When animal rights activists talk about rights of animals they often hear discouraging statements like: “humans are not getting justice in this country and here you are, talking about animals.” This shows the insensitivity that exists in our society towards the voiceless.
Big animals or pets are usually discussed more than animals like mules, horses, donkeys etc who play a major role in our daily lives. From field work in rural areas to coal mines, from carrying load in plains to Siachen, these beasts of burden are the invisible helpers often used instead of machines, yet neglected the most.
While talking to The News on Sunday (TNS) Naeem Abbas from Brooke, Action For Working Horses and Donkeys (Pakistan) explains how animals of burden are often overworked but under-nourished, lack regular healthcare and hardly get attention from lawmakers and other departments; while animals providing meat and milk are often the centre of attention. “We need to put policies and laws in order and ensure their implementation. Secondly, we need to educate our children [about animal welfare] through the school curriculum. Thirdly, we need to engage the media on the subject to create awareness. They [animals of burden] have equal rights even if they are not exotic or breed animals.”
The law and its enforcement are important components to provide protection to animals. There are a number of steps that need to be taken by governments to help animals live in their natural habitat instead of pushing them away from it or keeping them in captivity. Ayeza Haider of Voice for the Voiceless says, “Animals generally fall in four categories: First is wildlife. More wildlife sanctuaries and protected areas need to be built where wild animals can live according to their natural habitat. Export of exotic animals and birds should be banned. Sale of birds should be banned and bird lovers should develop favourable breeding environments for birds.
“Second, is livestock. Usually these are treated with respect but still, all shortcomings while transporting them should be checked. Slaughtering should follow shariah laws and no animal should have to go through physical or emotional torture. Mass factory farming of animals should be checked as it is a major contributor of greenhouse gases.
“Then there are street animals. The state should take ownership of all street animals and declare them ‘state animals’. They should be vaccinated, help should be available to them if they get injured or sick and strict punishments should be enforced in case of any abuse. They should be allowed to live as non-human citizens of Pakistan in their natural environment.
“Last, but not the least, pets. The government should keep a check on house pets and make sure that no one abuses them. Good quality vet services should be available at affordable prices.”
The best way to keep the cycle of nature intact is by letting animals thrive in their natural habitat instead of confining them to an unnatural one. Dr Taimur Saleem of The Vets Animal Hospital says, “If people are unable to do any good, at least they should try not to harm animals. People need to be educated about animal behaviour for them to understand that animals seldom attack until they are disturbed. Laws exist against animal abuse but their enforcement is important and people need to be aware of animal rights and their role in the ecosystem.”
Over the years, there have been many serious discussions around animal rights, their safety, the need to stop dog culling and adopt the trap-neuter-vaccinate-and-release (TNVR) method instead; major discussions about turning the society into an animal friendly one. New books under the Single National Curriculum (SNC) have a few chapters on how to treat animals as well, which is promising. Haider says, “Within a few years animal welfare has become a popular topic and attitudes towards animals are changing. This issue is being discussed in high courts, Supreme Court, Department of Livestock, local government, universities and schools. Many members of civil society are joining hands with rights activists and raising their voices for animal welfare.”
The writer is a freelance journalist