By Sadia Qasim Shah
The old white horse having a colorful harness and other gaudy embellishments seemed lifeless. `Why the long face?’. On a closer look at the horse, it turned out that tissue in one eye of the horse was badly damaged. The red eye was so damaged it seemed blind.
`Somebody hit him with a stick, quickly explained the young owner, who was busy bargaining the fare with the parents and whether he could let one or two children ride on it for Rs 50.
Not caring to tell whether he had got the horse`s eye treated or not, the owner just shared that he had been making this horse work for him for the last three years. The horse had been working for another guy for about 18 years.
The horse had even injuries on its joints which were hidden with color of henna.
After all those years of labor, scars of which were still visible, the old horse like thousands of working horses, donkeys and mules in Pakistan would be relieved of the burden and labor if only rescued by death whether accidental or mercy killing one day. Till that fateful day comes the old horse must die little by little every day to provide for the family of his owner.
`When our parents get old or have a fracture, we continue to treat them but it is not so with the old working animals like horses, donkeys and mules in Pakistan,` said a veterinary surgeon explaining why people at times opt for mercy killing of animals rather than continuing to treat them.
Since the equine or working animals are mostly owned by the poor people using them for earning bread and butter, they are unable to care for the animals like those who keep such animals at their stables as a hobby.
`As long as the working animal is cost-effective, it is made to work. Once it is injured or has a fracture, poor owners can`t afford to keep it,` a vet said, adding that such animals were usually euthanised.
Explaining its vision, the Brooke`s organisation states in a message on its website that it is working for `a world in which working horses, donkeys and mules are free from suffering`. The organisation is perhaps the only of its kind in the country working since 1991 in Peshawar.
It has been creating awareness among owners about how to take care of their working animals for almost 23 years now, but generally owners push their animals to work too hard.
Various myths and so-called ‘domestic treatments’ kill hundreds of animals across the country every year – ‘slit nose’ and ‘scorching the skin with metallic rods’ top the list.
Dr Sher Nawaz, a veterinary surgeon deployed at Richmond Crawford Veterinary hospital deployed by Brook Hospital for Animals (international animal welfare organisation), informed Dawn.com about the practices being employed eradicate ‘old-school treatments’ which hurt animals more.
“Slit nose is a practise which entails slitting the nostrils of animals so that ‘they are able to suck in more air’ for proper breathing. We have mobile health clinics and doctors travelling from place to place so that we can create awareness that this practise is absolutely uncalled for and has no connection with respiratory process.”
Brook Pakistan organise community sessions to create awareness against the myths endangering animals’ lives and have set up various mobile health clinics to assist the animals in need.
Dr Nawaz is optimistic of the awareness drives. “The post-community session surveys have shown a seven to eight per cent decline in nose slitting throughout the country, which is extremely positive.”
“We now plan to visit different schools so that children can be taught about animal rights and advocate the same ideology,” he added.
Donkeys carrying or pushing overloaded carts is a common sight. During its average life a horse or donkey which is overworked starts showing ailments at an early age.
Working animals as young as four years old are being brought to the vets with ailments and injuries like lameness, work related or accidental injuries, fractures, injuries due to beating with a stick, due to load, colic pain due to substandard food or eye and skin problems. In gruelling summers working animals suffer from many problems too.
Mostly old animals have wounded feet but fractures are life-threatening.
There is a British-era law (for British India) called Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1890 which penalises for cruelty to animals with imprisonment and fines that might have been a huge sum back in those days but the law is obsolete now.
The Livestock Department has its focus on dairy-producing animals and there seems to be no stated responsibility of this government department to look into problems like malnutrition and maltreatment especially to the aged and suffering working animals.
`We don`t have any legal powers to check overloading of working animals. We cannot even stop the sale of substandard meat and milk in the market, said an official of the Livestock Directorate, adding there was a dire need for a law to check cruelty to animals and define role of the department in this regard.
There is no retirement for working horses and donkeys. They must keep on carrying the burden till death in one painful form or another frees them from the shackles of this tough life of labor.
In the absence of laws to check cruelty to animals, few voices speak up for animal rights in the country.
Callousness to animals is evident from how stray dogs are killed. While many consider dog a man`s best friend, in our country there is a sufficient segment of society which looks down upon showering love and care for pets like dogs, cats and birds.
Keeping a dog as pet is still considered obnoxious and waste of money in many households. In the absence of a general loving and caring sentiment for the working animals, mostly owned by poor people, there is a dire need for the government to inspect how they are made to work and treated by their owners.
Since there is no law to check cruelty to animals and punish those committing it, it seems the hardworking animals like horses and donkeys would continue to suffer in Pakistan.