• Ibra Aamir

Why do people feel the need to have pets and is it always good for the animal?

Ever since humans have stepped onto this earth, they have developed a fond relationship with animals in personal, social and economic aspects. In the stone age, men only saw animals as food they could devour to ensure their survival. However, with the evolving time, it was understood that the wild creatures’ purpose is not restrained to the food chain, but they can be of value in other aspects too if tamed properly according to their needs. In ancient times, animals were used to plough fields and pull water from underground. Prior to the invention of wheel, they were the only form of transport. Fast-forwarding to today when animals have become man’s best friend and they are also given a precious place in the hearts and homes of humans.

Modern people value the companionship of their pets instead of fellow humans. Often, they feel alienated in this common world and believe that they don’t belong here. Therefore, they find refuge in the tender love of their pets who, according to them, understand them better than most of their friends. From a sociological perspective, this is not unusual in western homes that consist of nuclear families as compared to eastern world that prefers extended families. Their family trees are quite minimal which leaves them with a few or no relatives at all in their adulthood. Many of them are unable to socialize and make friends due to immense load of work. They are also hesitant of getting married as their secular culture has not fully inculcated the positivity of the concept in their minds. Hence, having pets seem the only viable option of companionship for them.

Spending the last fraction of their lives as spinsters, pets provide affection and support to humans in their old age. They cut out some of the loneliness that they feel due to the absence of a human partner. In cases of mental and physical illness, animals provide a sense of relaxation, stress relief and nostalgia when you play with them. They also assist in physical therapy which plays to the advantage of people who lose their essential ability to walk or move at all in the last bracket of their mortality. Pet owners over age 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets. While they don’t have any corporate or domestic assignments to do, they engage themselves in catering to the needs of their pets. They take their pets out on morning walks to add a bit of joy in their monotonous lives.

While having a pet fills human life with good spirits, we cannot say the same for the animals. Thinking solely of our own happiness, we fail to acknowledge the fact that by putting animals on market for sale, we are depriving them of their natural habitat. It also causes separation from their kindred species. Technology has not yet reached the point where it can fully translate animal language, hence we are oblivious to the pain they feel when they are divorced from their homes. Stressful events can even leave marks on animals' genes. In 2014, researchers found that African grey parrots that were housed alone suffered more genetic damage than parrots that were housed in pairs.

Pet culture is no different in Pakistan. Recently, a glimpse was caught of a giraffe in a house in Karachi. Lockdown due to the novel coronavirus left the animals on sale, in the Empress market of Karachi, abandoned in cages. On government's order, the market was opened for a short while to transfer the suffering animals to shelter homes. There is a roaring business of wild life trade in Pakistan. Once the imported animals land in Pakistan, a doctor, designated by the provincial wildlife department, checks them and issues a certificate on their state of their health. In normal circumstances, it takes an hour for an imported animal to get out of a seaport or an airport. “Once you bring the animals in the country,” asks Hameria Aisha, a wildlife manager at WWF-Pakistan, “is there a check and balance on their sale here?” There is none.

Swanky and boastful people of an influential status buy wild animals like lions, tigers and snake to brag about their wealth. This is categorized as animal abuse. Not all animals can be kept as pets. Wild creatures belong in forests. When wild animals are bought and kept in captivity in houses, studies suggest that they feel intense depression and loneliness. In a 2011 study, scientists found signs of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in chimpanzees that had been used in laboratory research, orphaned, trapped by snares, or been part of illegal trade. While the owners stage the drama to adore their pets under the gaze of media, they starve them in private. In some severe cases, animals are also brutally beaten and kept in small cages that are not enough for them to even breathe properly.

To protect animals from abuse and extinction, laws must be passed by the government for animal protection. Shelter homes can be established to care for abused animals. Trading of wild animals must be strictly prohibited and animals must not be allowed to be kept in captivity. As for keeping domestic animals as pets, the initiative “don’t shop, but adopt” should be pursued. This will prevent the act of putting price tags on wildlife. Instead, it will help diminish the number of stray animals that roam around streets with a starving stomach and finally submit to their lingering death. A reliable source confirms that there are over 600 million stray animals on the entire globe that suffer lives of misery, homelessness and starvation.

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