Voice for the Voiceless – Stray Animal Welfare

Global Ranking

Pakistan is rated as a poor performer (“E”) under the Animal Protection Index (API).[1] As the new provincial and federal governments take office, it is imperative that the respective legislators address this longstanding critical issue and focus dedicatedly on the protection and welfare of stray animals in Pakistan, particularly dogs. The stray dog population in Pakistan is estimated to be at least 3 million,[2] so it is alarming that these animals face culling, exposure to disease-prone environments and neglect.

This article aims to critically analyze and explore the legislation enacted for the safety of stray animals in Pakistan and evaluate its implementation. Furthermore, it will compare Pakistan’s animal protection laws with those of other countries, such as India, the United States and the United Kingdom, to highlight areas for improvement and effective practices that could be adopted.

Religion

First and foremost, the Holy Quran emphasizes the importance of treating animals fairly and with kindness:

“And they carry your heavy loads to lands that ye could not (otherwise) reach except with souls distressed: for your Lord is indeed Most Kind, Most Merciful.”

(Surah An-Nahl 16:7)

In Surah Al-Anam (6:38), Allah describes animals as creatures deserving the same treatment as human beings:

“There is not a moving (living) creature on earth, nor a bird that flies with its two wings, but are communities like you. We have neglected nothing in the Book, then unto their Lord they (all) shall be gathered.”

Thus, the importance of animals—both stray and wildlife—is explicitly apparent through religious teachings alone.

Legislative Instruments

Regarding animal welfare legislation, the Prevention of Cruelty Towards Animals Act, 1809 remains in force but has not been amended since its enactment. The Act was also adopted as provincial law following the creation of the provinces of Pakistan in 1970. However, despite the presence of this legislation, its application has been minimal, with only partial enforcement of the penalties prescribed therein. Furthermore, the Act merely acknowledges the pain and suffering of animals but does not legally recognize their sentience or provide remedies for it.[3]

Moreover, Pakistan is not a member of the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare (UDAW), a formal acknowledgement of principles that give animal welfare due recognition among governments and the international community. An expression of support for UDAW would signal the government’s commitment towards improving animal protection.[4] The 1809 Act not only fails to pledge any support towards UDAW but also reflects a lack of political will to take action or pursue progressive reform in animal welfare legislation.

The 1809 Act, a remnant of the British rule, has not been updated since Pakistan’s independence, which accounts for some outdated practices and the absence of penalties for culling. Additionally, there has been inadequate enforcement of the law and its penalties by the policing apparatus and other organizations. Another significant gap in the Act is that it does not apply to non-captive wild animals.

Since culling is not officially banned in Pakistan, dozens of stray animals, particularly dogs, are killed each day. Karachi alone is home to 200,000 stray dogs, with thousands being poisoned by the authorities in an attempt to reduce their numbers.[5] While human rights literature often resists extending ‘inherent dignity’ to other sentient beings, such as chimpanzees, our collective conscience is disturbed by the brutality inflicted on stray animals. Despite global safeguards preventing unnecessary brutality and killing of animals, more than 50,000 dogs die on the streets of Pakistan every year. This mass killing is not due to hunger or fatal injuries but because the Government of Pakistan has itself sanctioned this culling.[6]

India

Comparing Pakistan with a neighboring country like India highlights some notable differences in animal welfare approaches. India is home to approximately 6.2 crore (62 million) stray dogs and 91 lac (9.1 million) street cats, according to the The Times of India. Although India has not pledged support to UDAW and does not prohibit the killing of non-captive wild animals, it has enacted similar legislation for animal welfare through the Prevention of Cruelty Towards Animals Act, 1960.[7] 

Unlike Pakistan’s unamended 1809 Act, India’s legislation has seen consistent reforms that recognize animal sentience and impose penalties for cruelty. Moreover, India has established an animal welfare division within its government, comprising the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), the National Institute of Animal Welfare (NIAW) and the Committee for the Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals (CPCSEA). All three entities collectively monitor animal shelters across the country and work towards better protection of non-captive wild animals, reflecting a more structured and proactive approach to animal welfare.[8]

United States

The legal landscape regarding animal welfare in the United States ranks between that of India and Pakistan on the Animal Protection Index. While several pieces of legislation recognize that animals can suffer, they do not legally recognize the sentience of animals,[9] which may come as a surprise given the country’s robust legal system.

Statutes such as the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, 1958 and the Animal Welfare Act, 1966 offer protections for animals used for slaughter, research or wildlife purposes. Additionally, cruelty to animals is deemed a felony in 48 states across the country.[10] Although numerous statutes safeguard wildlife, from elephants to wild horses, there is no specific federal or state-level legislation addressing the killing of stray animals.

However, unlike India, the United States has pledged support to UDAW and this commitment has earned recognition from the World Animal Protection which has regarded the US as an example for other countries to follow in pledging support to animal welfare initiatives.[11] 

United Kingdom

If Pakistan should take note from any country regarding animal welfare, the United Kingdom serves as a good example. As the first country in the world to enact animal welfare laws and a prominent supporter of UDAW, the UK has promulgated comprehensive legislation for animal protection.

Under the Environmental Protection Act, 1990 the public health service unit has employed three dedicated animal wardens to patrol cities for stray dogs. When a stray dog is found, it is taken to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), a charity organization that operates kennels in Halewood. The RSPCA, founded in 1824 and working across England and Wales, has a long history of protecting animals through legal means and advocating for necessary legislative changes. By engaging with governments, institutions and public bodies, the RSPCA ensures that animal welfare concerns are addressed and updated, setting a good example of how a country can effectively manage and protect its stray animal population.

Reform

While Pakistan does have legislation ensuring some level of protection on paper for strays, numerous areas remain unaddressed. It is suggested that the government and concerned authorities consider the following amendments:

  1. Shelters for Strays: Barren lands throughout the country should be devoted to building proper shelters with basic necessities and strays should be relocated and protected in these facilities.
  2. Ban on Culling: An official ban on culling is necessary to reduce the cruelty towards strays on the streets.
  3. Adoption of Best Practices: Guidelines and a way forward should be crafted in light of recommendations by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Dogs Trust and the RSPCA, which strongly advocate for Animal Birth Control (ABC) through Trap, Neuter and Release (TNR) as it has proven to be the most effective and humane method. ABC recommends that at least 70% of the dog population needs to be vaccinated and sterilized for TNR to be effective.[12] Vaccination should also be advocated to prevent spread of diseases. The positive impact of these practices can be studied through a case-study of Turkey.
  4. Support for UDAW: The government should pledge its support for UDAW, which will ultimately enforce the application of protective legislation within the country.
  5. Updated Legislation: The Prevention of Cruelty Towards Animals Act, 1809 should be updated immediately placing stricter penalties on culling, poisoning and other illegal activities performed on stray animals.
  6. Dedicated Policing: A dedicated policing apparatus should established immediately to address this predicament.

We, as a society, as sentient humans, and as a state, should act now and act practically and progressively for the welfare of all these neglected beings who are exploited, tortured and killed with legal impunity depicting a moral collapse of the state in general.


References

[1] https://api.worldanimalprotection.org/country/pakistan
[2] Murawat, Fatima Farooq. “Countering the stray dog crisis in Pakistan” The Bulletin Blog. Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, University of Erfurt (Universität Erfurt), 5th August, 2022.
[3] World Animal Protection, Islamic Republic of Pakistan Animal Protection Index (November,2014) Page number 1.
[4] Ibid 2
[5] Faiza Ilyas,│'”Inhuman” killing of stray dogs continues in Karachi’ │ DAWN │Karachi, Pakistan │June 1st, 2023.
[6] Number of stray dogs killing in Pakistan
https://www.oipa.org/international/stray-dogs-pakistan-mass-culling/
[7] World Animal Protection, Republic of India Animal Protection Index (March, 2020).
[8] Ibid 5
[9] World Animal Protection, United States of America Animal Protection Index (March, 2020).
[10] Ibid 7
[11] Ibid 8
[12] ABC’s effectiveness through TNVR
https://images.dawn.com/news/1186313

Authored by:

Ahsan A. Munir
Munir & Munir Advocates & Legal Advisers

Assisted by:

Ms. Safa Mubashar
Ms. Zoha Yasin


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any other organization with which he might be associated.

Ahsan Ahmed Munir

Author: Ahsan Ahmed Munir

The writer holds an LL.B Honors degree from the University of London and an LL.M degree in Petroleum Taxation and Finance from the University of Dundee. He is a Partner at Munir & Munir Advocates and Legal Advisers and a lecturer for Taxation and Labour Laws at Kinnaird College, Lahore. He can be reached at [email protected]

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