Zeba Masood
Zeba is the founder of the Lucky Animal Protection Shelter in Peshawar, the first ever animal shelter in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province Image Credit: Supplied

Zeba Masood loves, rescues, and protects abused and broken animals. And that makes her my hero.

A homemaker and mother of four, Zeba is the founder of the Lucky Animal Protection Shelter in Peshawar, the first ever animal shelter in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The shelter’s acronym LAPS is the apt representation of its essence, its ethos, its contribution, and its aims—rescue, treatment, protection, and care of mistreated, abused, injured, and ignored animals. LAPS is the sanctuary for the invisible. LAPS is the voice of the be-zaban.

Founded in 2017, LAPS has helped thousands of street animals. Zeba and her team feed, rescue, provide medical treatment, neuters and spays, vaccinate, and house animals that walk with their heads hung in dejection, their bodies wounded, their pain undetected; animals lying in cold, heat, rain, their fur matted with blood, their wounds infested with maggots; animals that are too weak, too traumatized to even look for food; animals that exist like the untouchable in the world of apathetic human beings. Zeba’s LAPS sees them, pets them, treats with them love and warmth, and tell them they are not alone.

Supporting Zeba in her incredible work for animals are her husband Javed Khan and her youngest son Zarak Khan. This splendid Pashtun family devoting their time, attention, and resources to protection of animals is just what a society too focused on its self-survival needs. LAPS’ message is a gentle reminder that kindness to animals is not an either/or thing, that empathy for animals does not stop you from being nice to people, that demand for acknowledgment of animal rights is not a rejection of human rights. Those who are good and kind to animals are good and kind to everyone. Zeba’s LAPS is a radiant manifestation of humanity that is good, kind, inclusive, positive. And truly beautiful.

LAPS Pakistan
"What surprised us was when we realized that LAPS was the first and only animal shelter in a province of over thirty-five million people..."

For Gulf News I asked Zeba Masood a few questions:

What is the story of the origin of LAPS?

After living in the USA for more than forty years, I returned to Peshawar in 2017 on an extended visit. My kids, three boys and one girl, had all graduated college and were busy with their lives and careers. My mom suffered from Alzheimer’s, so I felt it was the right time to spend some quality time with my aged parents and take care of them.

Pakistan faces a myriad of problems, and animal abuse is one of them. Being animal lovers, we knew it was bad, but my husband and I were shocked by the extent of what we saw and experienced. As human beings, we just could not look the other way and ignore what was happening. I started feeding street dogs and strays from my parent’s car. Soon after, we started to vaccinate as many dogs as we could, since rabies and dog-bite incidents were skyrocketing. One thing led to another, and LAPS came into being.

To put it mildly, it has been a wild, crazy but extremely satisfying adventure till now. Gandhi once said, “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Well, Pakistan sadly has a long way to go.

In the short time since we started in very primitive and almost warzone like conditions and environment, as a performance indicator, I am happy to report that LAPS is now being recognized as a true animal welfare and care provider. Thus far, we have vaccinated more than forty-five hundred and spayed and neutered more than thirteen hundred dogs and cats. What surprised us was when we realized that LAPS was the first and only animal shelter in a province of over thirty-five million people.

What are some of the ways cruelty is unleashed on animals?

Physical abuse of dogs can range from slapping and kicking to extreme forms of torture such as burning, scalding, and strangling.

Neglect of dogs can include not providing adequate food, water, shelter, or veterinary care.

Chaining a dog for long periods of time without adequate food, water, shelter, or veterinary care is another form of cruelty.

Dogs used for breeding are mostly kept in inhumane conditions, with little to no socialization, and can be subject to over-breeding or forced breeding.

Dog fighting is an extreme form of animal cruelty.

Dogs can suffer from neglect when they are hoarded in overcrowded conditions.

Dogs in Pakistan are mercilessly and routinely poisoned or shot by local governments and municipal authorities as a means to control rabies and animal populations.

Testing of products and medications on dogs is a form of cruelty.

Unregulated trade of animals and unwarranted use of traps and snares are also forms of animal cruelty.

What are the short and long-term goals of LAPS?

Provide rescue or emergency services for injured and abandoned dogs and cats; providing shelter to stray, injured and abandoned dogs, including proper nutrition, exercise, and veterinary care; mass vaccination of stray and owned dogs to eradicate rabies; reducing animal overpopulation through spaying and neutering and adoption programmes; provide educational resources and create awareness to pet owners and the public on responsible pet ownership and empathy and kindness towards animals.

Absence of institutional attention perpetuates and enables public mistreatment of animals. What are your proposals for provincial and federal governments to change their attitude towards animal welfare and to ensure animal safety and rights?

Concerned authorities should implement and enforce all the existing laws and directives relating to alleviating the suffering of animals. The next step is to get the laws improved and replaced by new ones.

Everyone should visit the zoos in Pakistan and highlight the plight of animals caged there to get their living conditions improved or shut down all zoos.

As a long-term measure, awareness about animal rights should be raised among the public. Children must be educated about animal rights by including the subject in school syllabus at all levels.