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by Fouad Hafeez/ Express Tribune/ Feb 9, 2022

The greatest crimes that can be committed by us humans do not necessarily have to be restricted to crimes against other humans. The most insidious crimes perhaps are against those who cannot even express their suffering, or grief or agony; animals.

The ‘pet market’ at the College Road Rawalpindi is one such place where our capacity for such inhumanity is starkly reflected. Located just off and parallel to the busiest road in Rawalpindi, College Road has long been the venue for all sorts of sales pertaining to animals: dogs, cats, fish, birds and a wider range of exotic pets, too. The collective suffering of these animals there is horrific. And our collective unwillingness to ameliorate this suffering is certainly a crime of omission — perhaps one of the greatest crimes against life, mentioned earlier.

With regard to dogs and cats, specifically, the story is especially abhorrent. Most of the animals for sale in the animal market at College Road are actually beloved pets that have been stolen and are up for sale to new owners. On an all-too-regular basis, the shopkeepers of this place actively connive with dog and cat snatchers to perpetrate the theft to begin with. The shopkeepers thereafter sell the animals to unsuspecting new owners (and one cannot entirely rule out that such new owners are also aware that they might be purchasing stolen animals), and split the proceeds with the thieves. A former beloved pet, thus, is reduced to being passed around between people who view it as little other than a means of monetary benefit.

During the time between which they are ‘acquired’ and re-sold — which might be a while — these animals are subjected to every possible atrocity one might imagine. Since rental space within one of Pindi’s busiest quarters is expensive, these beloved former pets are locked up in cages so confined that growing puppies and kittens do not have the space to stretch, leave alone develop the body and bones of a healthy adult in the future. They are starved since food costs money, of course. They fester in their own excrement, unable to do a thing about it. Illnesses and diseases are not just common, they are almost par for the course; distemper, parvovirus, mange, rabies, and a host of parasitic vectors such as ticks, fleas and lice are just some of the many afflictions which plague these blighted Allah ki jaandaar cheezein (God’s living creatures). It is not uncommon for a dog or cat that has been bought to perish within a day or so of it being purchased by an ‘unsuspecting’ new owner. Whilst buying such a diseased and distressed animal, these new owners are also running a very real risk of interspecies transmission — the passing of a pathogen from the pet to the owner and his surroundings.

Factor in, also, how a lot of the ‘exotics’ that you can find at such ‘pet death-shops’ have been imported to Pakistan, under dubious circumstances, at best. It goes without saying that devastating cross-species diseases such as avian influenza and swine flu from such unstructured and unmonitored imported — or outright smuggled — animals can very easily slip through the cracks and wreak havoc upon not just the animal life of Pakistan, but affect wide swathes of the human populace, too. In an agrarian country like Pakistan, where livestock and poultry are such a vital component of our economic and nutritional lifestyles, can we really afford to allow this to continue? Moreover, when the coronavirus pandemic that has affected the entire world has already exposed the very real risk of zoonotic transmission — from bat, or pangolin, or whatever — can we really allow a small number of inhumane profiteers located within the heart of one of Pakistan’s major cities to tamper with the very well-being of life itself?

For a moment, leave the cruelty to animals to one side. Forget that, traditionally, the Riyasat-e-Medina we aspire to envisaged a state that was concerned with the well-being of even a kid goat on the banks of a distant river within the sprawl of the nation-state. In a contemporary context, is this our very own Wuhan waiting to happen?

We have inherited an archaic law dating back to 1890 from colonial times that governs matters pertaining to the prevention of cruelty to animals. It is a chilling indictment as to how little we care for animals; that this has been largely untouched — less a somewhat weak-kneed amendment in 2018 — for the past 132 years. We are also a member of the World Organization on Animal Health whose members pledge to ensure five basic freedoms for animals: “freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition; freedom from fear and distress; freedom from physical and thermal discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; and freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour relevant to the animal’s own kind.” Animal rights activists regularly decry what goes on in such ‘death markets’. And yet, the suffering of the animals themselves — and the cruelty of those who would benefit from their misery — continues unabated.

It is high time that the government stepped in and put a halt to the illegalities, irregularities and cruelties being carried out on a daily basis by the College Road pet market, and countless others of its type, spread across the length and breadth of Pakistan. To prevent cruelty against God’s creatures. All of them; humans included.

At the individual and social level, for those of us who love animals and would make them a part of our lives, if you are patronising this place and buying or selling from such a place, you are a part of the problem. You shan’t ever be a part of any possible solution. May your conscience be your guide!