“Every animal has the right to coexist with humans in peace”
LAHORE: Sarah Gandapur is a leading fashion designer and recognized animal rights activist. A household name in local fashion, she has showcased her work in international fashion shows and then stepped up to save animals. She continues her lifelong mission to adopt strays wherever she finds them. This week News Bowl spoke to him exclusively about animal rights.
How to raise public awareness of animal rights?
The basics include teaching our children about animal rights; so it has to start at the root. We need to start educating our children from their early years in school.
Their young minds need to be nurtured and sensitized from this tender age to love, respect and grow in compassion towards all living beings.
As for the general public, the government must step up and take responsibility for spreading a softer image of respect and compassion for all living beings. This is not an easy task as our general audience is very well attuned to animal abuse at all levels and classes.
What changes have you seen over the years on animal abuse?
The only real changes I’ve seen over the years regarding animal rights is that they’ve gone from bad to worse. The past few years have proven to be a nightmare for Pakistan’s street animals. The mass slaughter of street dogs is tantamount to crossing the threshold of humanity.
Meanwhile, the only salvation came in the form of a kind and committed animal rights activist and advocate who never gave up helping and educating about animal rights.
The current government has repeatedly pledged to ensure it is willing to regulate and enforce humane treatment of street animals and those in zoos, but so far it has not yet delivered what it should have.
Does the government cooperate with the public on complaints of animal abuse?
The government has, honestly speaking, tried at some official levels to help the public prevent animal abuse, but the help is not to the extent that it should have been. Most people in power do not pay attention to this issue because street animals and animals in general are not considered important. And even if you see the general public opinion, the answer is mostly that in a country where humans are dying, our concern for animals [is] of lesser importance. It’s inhumane. And unfortunately, that’s the mentality of a lot of people.
What do you think of Pakistan’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1890?
Pakistan’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (SPCA) 1890 was passed by the British during colonial times and has not been amended since until… recent years. We were faced with the alarming reality that people who were cruel to animals, especially oppressive working and street animals, would barely get away with fines. In addition, SPCA departments in each province lacked all the personnel and equipment needed to enforce anti-cruelty laws.
But currently, the 1880 law is being revised properly with the help and guidance of the relevant departments. I am also happy to share that other animal rights activists and organizations have contributed greatly to the movement and brought much needed change for animal rights in Pakistan.
What was the goal behind creating Sayaa Animal Welfare? When was it created and what is it used for?
The purpose behind forming Sayaa Animal Welfare Trust was conceived primarily in the loving memory of my parents. The word Sayaa is derived from Urdu which means “shadow”. Symbolically, it connects the importance of how parents provide shade and protection for their children; Sayaa aims to provide this love, compassion and shelter to animals in need.
We are focused on improving the quality of life for animals in Pakistan, whether they are on the streets, in workplaces, in zoos, in breeding camps or as pets. Every animal has the right to live and coexist with humans in peace and harmony given their rights.
How many animals has your organization rescued so far?
Well, unofficially, I’ve been working alone for 20 years. Since I grew up in an animal-loving family, from an early age, my father taught me compassion for animals, especially for those living on the streets.
We have always had pet dogs, but when I was around 16 I got my first pet cat and since then I have had a special place for both of them in my heart. Fast forward, after college I started feeding and adopting street cats, mostly kittens. From where, [over] in recent years I have had a mix of over 40 cats. More than a dozen of them are Siamese cats and the rest are local Pakistani breed cats. And I love them all equally.
This passion turned into a mission to save as many animals as possible. And the past 10 years has been a struggle to raise awareness of animal rights and animal rights advocacy in Pakistan and internationally.
Ultimately, it’s about saving and serving the voiceless animals.
What is TNVR and why is it important?
TNVR stands for trap, sterilize, vaccinate and release. We stressed the importance of making this practice common and widespread throughout Pakistan. Turkey is a model animal-friendly country where all street animals are fully vaccinated and rabies-free. The animals are fed and petted daily by the public.
It is the only solution to control the spread of the dog population and prevent dog attacks due to rabies and lack of compassion for street dogs.
Animal rights groups have worked extensively with the Punjab government over the past three years to get this law passed and activated. But the new policy was not officially notified by the provincial government, leading to increasing cruelty as well as illegal dog killing methods and some dog attacks.
Punjab Chief Minister Buzdar has so far not signed his endorsement for the new policy which the Lahore High Court ordered to be signed. And thanks to the efforts of the Honorable Justice Ayesha Malik, I think we will finally see that come to fruition this year.
Animal rights activists often denounce campaigns aimed at eliminating the stray dog population. But isn’t it true that the dog population is out of control and that rabid dogs have caused many deaths, especially of children?
Two main reasons for stray dog attacks are both shocking and sad. Before making judgments about wild animals, you should know that dogs are essentially territorial animals. The increase in the human population and the concrete jungle in which we live forces dogs to leave their natural habitat, ie nature, forests, fields and streets. So can we blame them if they have no choice but to be in the street?
On top of that, our children are socialized to become cruel and often tease and hurt newborn puppies. They throw stones at mother dogs and even kidnap small puppies. You will be surprised to learn that these are terrible cases of animal cruelty inflicted on these poor animals by children and adults. In most cases, mother dogs only protect their young and retaliate by attempting to bite humans who pose a threat to their puppies. The rest are rabid dog cases where rabies can be prevented if the relevant departments simply do their job and perform TNVRs regularly.
Even in the West, which claims to champion animal welfare, culling campaigns have been waged. Your thoughts on this?
The West has long since abandoned the cruel practice of dog slaughter and [has] propose more humane and useful methods to control the population of street animals.
But my favorite remains Turkey whose people have shown themselves to be exemplary [companionship] to street animals and I hope to see Pakistan’s animal welfare system one day resemble Turkey’s. It is a dream that I dare to dream.
Do you think zoos
in Pakistan should
All over the world, zoos should be closed and converted into reserves and sanctuaries. History has witnessed the cruelty and neglect of zoo animals.
Pakistani zoos are no exception. I think it would be safe to say that Lahore Zoo is perhaps the only bearable zoo in Pakistan with good staff and proper facilities provided for zoo animals. Yet the enclosures remain old and I believe the beautiful Lahore Zoo can be transformed into a reserve where all the animals might be able to get out of the cages and finally live a free life.
Do you think we as a nation are cruel to animals?
Yes we are. Since childhood, we have seen animals as mere means of food supply or as inferior beings born to be enslaved by humans. Whether they are in the wild or on dairy or farmed farms, we need to change that way of thinking and at least start now by keeping a more compassionate approach for all animals. And we must take this step so that our young people are more caring towards all animals.