Ardeshir Cowasjee, who does not need any introduction, during one of his many interviews, said that “this country was founded by people who loved animals, specifically dogs”. The famous picture of Quaid-e-Azam, playing with his black Doberman and white West Highland Terrier, is clearly plastered in the memories of many people who adore animals. Unfortunately, present-day Pakistan is governed by people who either do not appreciate the beauty of animals or are indifferent to their plight, which is why places such as pet markets, where animals are kept in heinous conditions for sale, thrive.
The beauty of Empress Market, which remains a tourist attraction and a delight for art lovers all across the globe, camouflages all that lies within. Inside the labyrinthine market, there are streets where animals are kept, bought and sold. There is nothing wrong with selling or buying animals, however, the deplorable state in which these animals are kept is abhorrent!
An animal lover myself, the zoo and Empress Market remained the two most fascinating places growing up. However, as a child I did not realise the dreadful condition these animals are kept under, in both the aforementioned places.
One day, in a bid to revisit the fond memories of my childhood, I visited Empress Market’s animal shops only to find out what I had already dreaded.
An “animal concentration camp” is an apt enough description of the condition in which countless cats, dogs, chicks and exotic birds are kept at Empress Market. Amidst the vegetable market are many shops where various animals as young as a few weeks old cry all day long for the sanctuary of their mothers. The cages are packed with kittens, chicks and puppies so much so that there is no room for proper ventilation. Many of the shops have secret chambers where emaciated baby jackals, partridges, owls and other exotic animals are kept without a morsel of food and water.Dyed chicks kept in a cage. -Photo by Mahjabeen Mankani/Dawn.com
Most of the animals are chained and caged under direct sunlight, panting from the heat. Dogs, deprived of affection and food, yelp constantly for attention. In an effort to look for a shop where the living conditions for animals was slightly better I met a chota or an underling of the shopkeeper, who on condition of anonymity said, “I am sure you can evidently see what all is going on in this market. I do not have to describe anything; however, I must say that the dogs are treated worse than all other animals. Most of the time when a puppy or a dog is severely sick, instead of taking it to a veterinarian, it is left to ‘recuperate’ on its own.”
There are incurable diseases in which one has to get animals euthanised but what these shopkeepers do is that they release such animals out in the open, leaving them to die a frightful death,” he added.Decomposing bodies of dead puppies at Empress Market. -Photo by Mahjabeen Mankani/Dawn.com
The truth in his statement was confirmed when I saw a pile of dead puppies lying in a rubbish heap a few meters away from the shop. The decaying remains of dogs, which are considered the most faithful companions, shook me to the core.
I thought the sight of rotten dead puppies was the worst that the market had to offer me; however, I was very sadly mistaken. A few yards away I saw a German shepherd, who had defecated in the cage he was kept in, lying lifeless with filth all over and around him. Unable to curtail my anger I looked for the shopkeeper and demanded justification to which he conveniently said “it is being treated; you should have came later in the afternoon and seen how well these animals are looked after.”
Hearing this I directed his attention to the aforementioned dog, on which he immediately threw a bucket full of sand. Another shopkeeper, adamant to prove his love for animals, brought out expired packets of animal food and powder used for killing cockroaches and bed bugs for the animals’ fleas and ticks.
Disgusted by what I had just witnessed, I ran to the Sindh Wildlife Department to report the animal abuse. Sindh Wildlife Conservator, Saeed Baloch said, “I know that they sell endangered animals and that are very cruel to them. We raid their shops and there are times when we capture partridges, woodpeckers and other birds and release them into their own habitat. However, this network of animal shopkeepers is so strong that the minute our inspection team enters Empress Market, everything ‘illegal’ is either gone or hidden.”