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Dozens of Pakistani animal lovers and activists chanted “stop animal abuse” as they marched peacefully in Islamabad, calling for an end to animal cruelty, on Tuesday. Image Credit: Sana Jamal/Gulf News

Islamabad: Dozens of Pakistani animal lovers and activists marched peacefully in Islamabad calling for an end to animal cruelty this week. They chanted “stop animal abuse” as they walked through the city centre carrying colourful placards with gloomy pictures of animals also urged authorities to “stop killing stray dogs” and “closure of cruel pet markets.”

The protest, organised by Pakistan Animal Rights Organisation (PARO) and Critters Ark welfare Organisation (CAWO), was attended by few but passionate citizens. “It aches my heart to see animals at pet markets in miserable condition. I’m here because I believe all animals, whether pets, strays and those in zoo, need our support to offer them a suitable environment,” said Tooba Gulzar, an 18-year-old college student.

When people talk about animal rights, they tend to forget strays and those at pet shops. “It is shocking that our law does not offer protection to stray animals and in pet markets where they are most abused,” Abrar Bhatti, one of the protesters, told Gulf News. Bhatti, who owns two Siamese and Persian cats, says the protest had a dual purpose — to press government to implement animal laws and to spread mass awareness for animal protection.

We are trying to create awareness that both human and animal rights matter. All lives should be valued because we are all God’s creation.

- Mishi Khan, Actress and animal lover

Most of the participants said they learnt about the protest on social media. While protests and social media can play a significant role, what is crucial is to identify the institutions that have the power to implement the change such as the parliament and courts, says Owais Awan, a lawyer who is currently defending the Islamabad zoo animals in court to protect their rights. “We do have the laws but Pakistan is graded F in Animal Protection Index as our constitution does not expressly recognise animal sentience,” Awan told Gulf News. He suggests the “top priority should be to revise the existing laws and form a regulatory framework which can act as animal police or watchdog.”

In Pakistan, the debate on animal rights is often countered with responses such as “Why spend time on animals when human don’t get their full rights here?” Responding to such opinions, Pakistani actress Mishi Khan, said, “We are trying to create awareness that both human and animal rights matter. All lives should be valued because we are all God’s creation.” Mishi, an animal lover who owns two dogs and loves to spend time helping strays, urged people to show sympathy towards animals. “The least we can do is put out food and water for the stray animals,” she said.

Adopt, don’t shop!

Anila Umair, founder of CAWO, the non-profit organisation that rescues stray animals and birds, wildlife in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, urged people to follow “adopt, don’t shop” motto. “We rescue and treat animals and then ask people to adopt them,” Umair said, adding that she currently has 36 cats and three dogs waiting to be adopted. However, she regretted that people want cute and perfect breeds and not strays. “But then what about all the strays? Don’t they deserve our love?” Umair asks. She requested local animal lovers to adopt instead of buying from breeders and pet stores. “When you adopt you not only provide a needy animal a home but also discourage the pet market mafia.”

Talking about the pathetic condition of animals at pet shops, Abdul Mobeen from animal welfare organisation PARO, said “Cats, dogs and birds are stuffed into small, filthy and uncomfortable cages and are not given proper food, water, and even air. Many have broken limbs. The situation at the shops is heart-rending” he said, urging the authorities to develop laws to regulate the pet shops. “If you can’t take care of them then just shut these shops,” he implored.