My dogs Pearl, Autumn and Louis are part of my family, and loving and caring for them have redefined empathy and kindness for me. The suffering of animals agonizes me, and those who care for Allah’s be-zaban creatures are my heroes. Lahore’s Todd’s Welfare Society (TWS) cares more than others. For years, I have followed their work on Twitter, and my admiration and respect for what they do is immense. I wish I could do even a bit of what they do.
For Vice-Chair of TWS Romana Bhatti, her work started years ago: “Living in the UK and following a few rescue groups in Eastern Europe and the UK led me to think of the plight of animals in the city of Lahore where I had grown up, and how to help those poor creatures. Such is the power of social media that I was introduced to Kiran Maheen who had formed TWS just one week prior to our meeting, and the rest is history.
We have seen TWS start with a few dogs in our foster home to raising funds to build the very first animal sanctuary in Lahore. My journey in the rescue world has not been an easy one as many tears have been shed, and many times our hearts have been broken over the loss of a rescue. But would I ever stop this work, no, I would not. The joy and satisfaction you get from seeing those animals healed and well makes up for all the heartache and pain.
I can truly say that being a part of TWS is not only an honour but also a great pleasure, and I hope to continue to help street animals for many years to come.”
I asked TWS Vice-Chair Romana Bhatti a few questions:
Todd Welfare Society is the first and the only animal shelter in Lahore. Share with us its story.
Romana Bhatti: Todd’s Welfare Society is the first NGO to have set up a sanctuary in Lahore, a safe haven for the abused, injured, sick and mistreated of not only Lahore but the neighbouring cities. It is named after a dog that belonged to TWS founder Kiran Maheen. On April 12, 2010, Todd walked out of her house, never to be seen again. Even after searching for him for days, months and years, Todd was never found. It is in Todd’s honour that TWS has been named.
On March 5, 2016, the co-founder of TWS Umer Rajpoot rescued a dog from outside his house. A dog that had been shot four times in the face but was still alive. Both Umer and Kiran rushed Joanne, as the injured dog was named, to the vet, but sadly, she had to be euthanized and it was there and then that TWS was born.
TWS exists with the sole aim to end the pain and suffering of the animals in Pakistan. To highlight the plight of those most wretched of creatures and to be their voice.
TWS’ work is so amazing, so inspirational, there should be a book written about it. What are some of the things the TWS team does for animals in pain?
To date, we have rescued thousands of animals. We provide first aid and advanced medical treatment. TWS has a quarantine area. We do Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return (TNVR). We do overseas and local adoptions. Local cats from the streets are spayed and neutered. We hold camps for donkeys. During the lockdown, TWS had a food drive for people who use donkeys for work. In a collaboration with the charity organisation Brook [Action for Working Horses and Donkeys], we visited brick kilns to provide food to people and their donkeys for a whole month.
What do you think is the major reason for Pakistanis’ cruelty to animals and apathy to their pain?
A major reason that animal cruelty is so rife in Pakistan is the lack of education and understanding, and not having enough knowledge to see those animals as living creatures that feel pain. To see them as not only a commodity to be used but as something unclean and impure and not worthy of life or even existing. Understanding about rabies is a prime example. Pakistan is full of people who think that all dogs are rabid when this is not the case, but they do not take the time or effort to learn the simple fact that by vaccinating a street dog you are actually eliminating rabies in society without resorting to killing.
Then you have people who have no qualms about subjecting a poor animal to intolerable cruelty just to seek pleasure for themselves. The motive of such people could be to get the attention they were refused by society or from people close to them. We believe animal cruelty, if disregarded, can evolve into other forms of violence committed on humans. It’s of utmost importance for a better future that humans and animals learn to coexist
What are the forms of cruelty meted out to animals in Pakistan, and in particular, Lahore?
Sadly, we have seen many forms of animal cruelty in our line of work. Donkeys are abandoned on the streets, too sick or injured to continue working. Most people do not care about their donkeys whilst they were working for them and helping them to earn a living, and they just callously discard the animal without any thought or guilt.
The most common occurrences of animal cruelty are to those dogs that have fallen victim to the abhorrent practice of dog culling. TWS rescues them. These poor dogs are either poisoned or shot at close range, leaving them with life threatening injuries, usually resulting in a loss of a limb or death. Cats and dogs are victims of hit-and-run accidents where the driver does not even bother to stop and check to see if the animal is even still alive and needs first aid.
Do you have any suggestions for mainstreaming kindness to animals?
Social media is a powerful tool. If media entities such as yours help spread awareness regarding the rights of animals, we believe it will help change so many mindsets. Education is another important factor. To get to the very roots of society, we need to make children aware and understand that animals feel the same hurt, happiness, pain, and other emotions as we humans do.
In which way the government can assure humane treatment of animals?
Government can do wonders for the animals of this country but only if they want to. It’s about time that government introduced laws that safeguarded and included all animals. It is important for the government to work alongside the experts in animal welfare, and by understanding scientific facts about animals, such as that TNVR is the only humane method to reduce the stray dog population and not dog culling.