bear and dogs
Image Credit: Twitter/@wildpakistan

A black bear and two dogs. The dogs, one white, one black with patches of white, are tiny in comparison to the giant bear, and extremely fast and high spirited. All three of them are lovely. If only the setting they are in is not a scene from some dark, twisted movie. It is horrific.

The bear with a rope around his neck is fighting with the two dogs on a hard, caked mud surface. Wrestling, biting, hitting with paws, struggling, within a few seconds the two dogs are underneath the bear that is tied to a small wooden post in the middle of that grotesque fighting ring.

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I couldn’t watch beyond that point. I watched it on mute. I watched it because I had to report it, and I had to write about it.

It was a post on a Twitter handle @wildpakistan at 5:59 pm, September 5, 2020. Save the wild is a private organisation whose bio says: “Join us in the fight to save Pakistan’s wildlife from the threats of hunting, loss of habitat and pesticides.”

The relevant authorities have been informed. Immediate action is expected. I’m hoping the culprit is arrested and punished. That the bear is treated for his injuries and placed in a zoo or a wild animal sanctuary. That the dogs are treated for their injuries and placed in an animal shelter.

According to Save the Wild, the perpetrator, the bear handler and trainer Shaukat Hayat “from chak-123, Gulyarwali,Tehsil Sillanwali, Distt Sargodha, along with his [the bear’s] owner Shahid Sultan from Panjaywala, have been baiting him to dogs for many years now. His owners bought him for PKR 500k and have been recouping that through bear baiting and begging on streets. Sher-e-Punjab was seen in @chiniot_police custody this March when his owners/trainers were apprehended red-handed baiting him in Muhammadwala. But to everyone’s shock instead of being sent to prison for their abhorrent crimes and [the] bear going to a sanctuary, they were let go along with the bear to continue with the abuse. How could that be possible? We fail to understand. Sher-e-Punjab isn’t being baited right.”

Sher-e-Punjab (lion of Punjab) is the name of the bear. The sheer irony of the name manifests the reality of that magnificent bear’s awful life.

bear and dogs
Image Credit: Twitter/@wildpakistan

Twitter works fast. Occasionally. On September 6, at 12:30 am, Deputy Commissioner Sargodha Abdullah Nayyar Sheikh responded to Save the Wild’s tweet: “Apparently, [the] video is an old one. Panjaywala is in Chiniot. Based on preliminary reports, Police lodged FIR against the owners in Mar 2020 & Wildlife Dept recovered the bear and kept it in zoo then. Wildlife Dept is pursuing matter in court against culprits. Matter will be probed.”

Deputy Commissioner Sheikh also posted a video of the bear in a zoo.

Cruelty to animals is not three words for me. To me it is one of Pakistan’s biggest issues. It hurts me, deeply. News of mistreatment or violence to animals disturbs me so much I think about it for days. Sitting alone in my room, I cry when I read about animals going through hell. Inflicting pain on animals who do not speak the language of humans, and who we Pakistanis say are “be-zuban” (without voice/voiceless) is the monstrosity of which there are few adequate parallels.

Any animal that is not in the category of providing nourishment or is not literally a beast of burden or useful for harvesting is treated as a liability in Pakistan. That I feel is one of the major reasons millions of Pakistanis treat animals with causal unkindness, a great deal of cruelty, in unquantifiable cases.

Dog fighting; rooster fighting; bear fighting; monkeys and bears, leashed and beaten, used as street entertainment; donkeys and mules used for excessive load carrying, beaten with rods and sticks, and left on streets to die when too old or too emaciated to work; caging of wild animals in inadequate enclosures; caging of wild birds in tiny coops; dismal living conditions of animals and birds bred and sold for meat for human consumption; and awful conditions of zoos, mistreatment of or violence to animals is visible in numerous forms.

Almost every Pakistani divides animals into categories of pure and impure. Barring animals whose meat is a source of primary nourishment in a society that is majorly carnivorous, many animals come in the category of impure animals whose meat is a forbidden item in Islam. Among those impure animals, there are categories of impurity.

Cats are not food, but they are allowed to be kept as pets. Pigs are categorically forbidden. Dogs are kept as guard and hunting dogs, and in upper crust and upper middle-class homes as beloved pets, but in the majority of Pakistani homes and other places dogs are treated with tremendous disdain, and even outright hate. That, attitude, invariably leads to mistreatment of or violence to dogs.

What is the worst aspect of violence against animals, cruelty on animals? Their culling through death. Hundreds and thousands of dogs are killed all over Pakistan every year. Karachi tops the list of dog killing cities in Pakistan. They are killed despite the presence of ways to restrict their number and the possibility of them being carriers of rabies.

Poisoned or shot, the images of their lifeless bound limbs haunt our twitter timelines. Maimed, left to die in excruciating pain, the pictures of their bodies lying in their own blood scream at our apathetic souls. Thrown in dumpsters, after being killed en masse, their lifelessness is a sign of the deadening of our humanness.

The glaring aspect of this societal mindset is the overlooking of Islamic teachings in Pakistanis’ behaviour with most animals, and especially dogs. There is absolutely nothing in the Holy Quran and the Hadith that could be misinterpreted as a sanction of mistreatment of any animal. Kindness to animals, including dogs, is not just a fundamental human value, it is also an Islamic teaching. How many Pakistanis follow that?

In a society where lying, dishonesty, backbiting, backstabbing, cheating, fraud, violence of all kinds, usurping of others’ rights, envy, and jealousy–all categorically forbidden by Islam–run amok without any fear of accountability, it is incredulous to see awful treatment of animals covered under misinterpretations of religious injunctions.

Islam has forbidden you to eat non-halal meat; Islam does not give you permission to inflict pain on any animal. Allah is Rehman and Rahim. And Allah through His prophets and books shows human beings the importance, the magnificence of that one virtue that is, was and will always be essential for human existence: kindness. The divine kindness is not merely limited to humans. It is for all animate and inanimate creations of Allah.

My dogs are my family. Pearl, mixed breed, has been with us for six years. Autumn, a Labrador, joined us last June. Two of our dogs, Zeus, a German Shephard, and Summer, a Lab, both puppies, both unchaperoned for five minutes, were stolen from our gate. Zeus I wasn’t very attached to, but we looked for him for days. Summer I loved. I miss him even today. We also saved and adopted a stray, Ivory, who was hiding in a bush after being shot five times by the pellet gun of a DHA Lahore security guard.

It is not that I did not like animals before I adopted dogs. It is just that the last few years have taught me multiple things about the splendour of dogs. Their love, their loyalty, their selfless devotion, their giant hugs, their happy tail-wagging at the smallest of things, their waiting for me at the terrace whenever I go somewhere, it is all beautiful beyond words. My dogs have strengthened my humanity.

Everyone in my house is nice to animals. Donkeys, stray cats and dogs, birds, monkeys, other people’s pets. The eight-year-old in my home, my godson, and the son of our housekeeper, wants to be a vet. My son, now 20, wanted to build an animal shelter when he was perhaps eight or nine. My nephew, 16, was the one who rescued Ivory and brought her home. He was 12 at that time. Looking after dogs in our home has made all of us kind to all animals.

Unsung heroes

Through tweets of various animal shelters in different cities of Pakistan, founded and run by some fabulous people and their families and teams, every day I read stories of human cruelty and human kindness. It is humans who unleash gratuitous violence on animals. It is also humans who save those bleeding, those broken animals, and help them heal. Some animals, too hurt to recover, die, but they die knowing that they were cared for, loved. Not many of those animals are adopted, but all of them are taken care of, and treated with love and kindness.

Almost all animal shelters are projects of the humanity of people who run them with their own funds and on the largesse of small or generous donations. Founders and personnel of animal shelters are my heroes. They save animals who are hit by cars and left in the middle of the road to die, beaten with blunt objects, sticks, bricks, rods, hands. They care for animals who have broken bones. They bring back to life frightened-of-humans animals who have lost all will to live. They pick maggots from the bodies of animals who are in too much pain to even whimper. They look for forever homes for their rescued darlings. In a country that is too breed conscious, many stray animals live in their shelters forever. They are in pain when some of their rescues die. They post heartfelt prayers for them.

There are many of them, these incredible people, I only know a few of them. I follow some of these magnificent heroes on Twitter. The Ayesha Chundrigar Foundation Animal Rescue, Todd’s Welfare Society (TWS), Paws Pakistan, Let’s Save, HWO Animal Rescue, Pawprint Pakistan, Rescue at Innocent Pets. Their service is selfless, their work is glorious, their patience is exemplary, their kindness is unlimited. Most of them remain nameless, faceless angels. Their kindness for animals in pain is a beautiful manifestation of human beings following divine teachings.

On September 4 TWS tweeted: “Sadly, people are impatient and want quick solutions. Despite knowing that we were in the middle of a pandemic, this society went all out and had all the dogs shot down KNOWING well that dog culling does not reduce their numbers and encourages new dogs to occupy that territory.”

On August 30 TWS tweeted: “Today we are gathered together to highlight what is happening to the stray dog population in Pakistan. These dogs are brutally murdered either by poison or shooting. Pakistan actually has dog culling teams who go around killing these innocents. Spread the word #STOPKILLINGDOGSPAK.”

On August 30 TWS tweeted: “#STOPKILLINGDOGSPAK these murders have to stop. They take place upon authorities giving permission. Please support #TNVR program in Pakistan.

@ImranKhanPTI you have dogs, are their lives worth more than these poor street dogs? Put an end to these murders #STOPKILLINGDOGSPAK.”

Read more from Mehr Tarar

TNVR–trap, neuter, vaccinate, return–is the perfect antidote to the increasing number of stray dogs, and fear of rabies due to dog bites. An affordable, do-able, painless, humane way of dealing with stray dogs is available. But it is of no consequence. Countless dogs are still being killed.

On August 30 TWS tweeted: “We have a dream. A dream that will see the animals of Pakistan free from abuse and cruelty. A dream where they will find the homes they so deserve. A dream where they will not be seen as worthless. A dream where they are no longer murdered in cold blood and discarded like rubbish.”

The images of the dead dogs swirl on our timelines like the whispered curses of the be-zuban. I believe in the curse of the be-zuban. I believe in the power of the curse of the weak, the harmless who is tortured, the innocent who is murdered, the poison or pellet-riddled dead bodies of dogs that are dumped in garbage or are incinerated.

Stop killing be-zuban dogs, Pakistan.

Mehr Tarar, Special to Gulf News-1592296810288