by Qalander Memon

Recently, Foxie got out of the house and disappeared. Learning of Foxie’s disappearance I was alarmed. He was a white, blue-eyed Persian cat and, therefore, a commodity for most. I volunteered to check at Tollinton Market, Lahore, where stolen and abandoned animals are sold.

I went there every day for the next few days to look for Foxie. Every day I walked past hundreds of animals in tens of shops, asking vendors if they had a blue-eyed Persian cat. I was shown some, but none of those was Foxie. Who were these unnamed cats and dogs and where did they come from? What had caused them to end up in the living hell?

These animals live in cages that in some cases are one and a half feet by three feet with a height of one foot. Below each animal there may be another cage of the same size and above it another. In some cases, there is not room to take a step, straighten out or stand up. They live in tiny prisons. Sometimes in the next cage there are ill and dead animals. I saw cats being grabbed by the neck cuff, propped out of the cage, held up high for potential customers and then shoved back in.

These animals once had a home. The cat was a kitten with a mother. In some cases they were bought by the bourgeois or aspiring bourgeois and moved to, say, a house on Abid Majeed Road in Lahore. When the owners decided to move to America, they were abandoned and ended up at Tollin’ton Market, sold there for a few thousand rupees.

Beautiful puppies lay dead in the sewer outside the market. Kittens likewise, thrown there with a terrible disregard after they had breathed their last. Who is to blame for this? What creates this market?

The answer in both cases is the pet fetish of the Lahori bourgeois. The hell at Tollin’ton Market is the underside of the system that allows for fat Persians cats in houses in Defence and Cantonment. Let me explain.

Around the market, cats and dogs we call aam, walked freely and took their pick of the leftovers from the butcher’s shops that punctuate the market. What separates the fate of the Persian cats in the cages from the strays is the value associated with the former and not the latter. The bourgeois see in features like long hair, blue eyes, triple coat, in Huskies and German shepherds an extension of their own vision of beauty. For the upper-classes, these are not companion species, but another object to fill the gaps in a life lived in luxurious waste – unreflective and unproductive.

Aping trends they see on Instagram stories result in them paying breeders for imported Huskies. If there is no fetish for such features, then there is no market. If there is no market then there is no ‘hell’ like Tollin’ton Market. For every Husky in a ‘good home’, a sibling and a breeding animal is living in hellish conditions. That is why earlier, I referred to Tollin’ton Market as the underside of the same system – they are connected, like a root and a branch. Those who buy from these breeders are in many ways to blame for the dead puppies in the sewers around Tollin’ton Market.

Tollinton Market is to animals what the slave ships, slave markets and slave-based agricultural farms were across the Americas in the Atlantic slave trade. Humans hate to be compared to animals because they think it is demeaning, but the comparison here is not meant to demean the experience of brutal exploitation – then and now – of those who were enslaved. It is to meant show that the methods, structures and ideology of slavery persist – directed still at humans but also extended to animals.

Slaves were seen as tools and a means to an end: the end being the taking of their ‘labour’ and ‘reproductive labour’. They were a commodity for the owners and traders because of their labour. Their value and their existence depended on the value the market placed on them.

They existed only for the other as an object. The animals at Tollin’ton Market likewise exist as commodities. Take away a Husky’s hair and metamorphose him/ her into the features of the stray dog, and it will command no value – for the owner or the market.

The society continues to operate on the premise that these animals cannot think and that, therefore, they can be put in a cage in Tollin’ton Market or killed at will.

Selma James, philosopher and activist, argues that “caring work is civilisational work”. She argues that what makes us and animals civilised is not our ability to reason about concepts of good but simply the fact that we engage in caring work. Caring work is what makes us civilised – doing it and receiving it. A nurse guiding a patient to health; a cat purring and healing us; a teacher teaching; cleaners, cooks; mothers creating life and those raising children are the bedrock of civilisation. The barbarians are the bourgeois – sitting idle in their living rooms watching the politics of life unfold on TV as their ‘servants’ serve them blueberry juice.

Those who engage in the richness of caring for their children can testify to that. This caring, that presently only finds its expression in a limited form for the nuclear family, needs to expand to society at large and to animals.

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