One evening, while I was sitting at the veterinary clinic with my kitten in my lap, waiting for vaccination; a woman came in crying that her cat was not responding after it fell from the terrace four hours ago.
My immediate reaction was, "how irresponsible does a cat owner have to be to bring a heavily injured cat to the veterinarian four hours later?" Turns out, she was helpless since there was no vet clinic nearby her house and all she could do was pray that her cat was still breathing while travelling across Dhaka in immense traffic.
The cat was dead on the way to the vet but the woman was reluctant to believe the fact. I had never seen a sob so loud and painful when the woman screamed in agony and guilt.
But was it really her fault? She tried her best to save her little one but it is a fact that the health and safety of animals in this country is systematically neglected.
Adopted animals are somewhat luckier as their owners take them for medical treatment whereas a stray dog or cat is almost never fortunate enough to get such an opportunity. But pet owners also often have to face immense difficulties to provide necessary healthcare to their animals.
There is no emergency patient intake for pets in general hospitals in our country. Veterinary hospitals are few and far between. The handful that do exist have questionable reputation and shoddy management.
These vet clinics are open for only a few hours of the day. There are no diagnostic facilities for accurately identifying health problems of the pets. Lastly, there is also an excruciating shortage of veterinary doctors. Even after all that, the cost of healthcare for pets in Bangladesh is still exorbitant.
There is no veterinary university in our country except Chittagong Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (CVASU). Since we are an agricultural nation, the priority is mostly towards livestock and farm animals; neglecting the healthcare of other pets in the process.
Various forms of animal abuse takes place in Bangladesh in broad daylight.
Animals are forcefully kept constrained in narrow cages in pet stores in Katabon even when it is clearly illegal as per Section 6(d) of Animal Welfare Act 2019, which states that "cruelty" amounts to restricting an animal to such an extent and in such a manner that makes the animal unable to stand, sit, or function in its natural ways.
The cages in Katabon are full of animals whose movement is severely constrained. The allotted punishment for restricting movements of animals is up to six months of imprisonment or Tk10,000 fine or both, under section 16(a) of the same act.
The amount in monetary fine is not adequate to function as a deterrent mechanism, considering people's economic capabilities. Higher fines will likely prevent businessmen from committing such activities as they will incur financial loss.
I was in talks with Tia Chowdhury, founder and leader of Animal Rescuers Bangladesh (ARB) who also expressed her disappointment with the access to healthcare for animals. She also voluntarily spays and neuters street dogs for population control, which is the responsibility of a country's city corporation or municipality.
Instead, our municipalities often relocate these dogs as that is a cheaper method. But relocation of animals is not a proper solution as it can disrupt their natural habitat, potentially killing them from starvation.
Tia Chowdhury went on to explain why spaying or neutering is extremely important since pregnancy comes with several complications. "For example, if a dog does not have a leg and gets pregnant with several puppies, it could be life-threatening", she says.
However, she has to rely on donations and her own savings, since veterinary services are extremely expensive and not everyone can afford them. Spaying a dog will cost, on an average, Tk2,000-4,000. Apart from a few noble souls, it is a far-fetched idea that people of this country would spend this much money on street dogs.
But is adoption an option? Yes, but only if you are really willing to. Be responsible and committed. Domestic animals depend on you so be sure you are capable of taking responsibility. Tia Chowdhury recalled incidents where people used to nod yes for adoption but later returned the furballs.
On top of that, there is a religious stigma against dogs as they are often called impure and dirty. However, if they are vaccinated, they should not impose any risk. Stating an animal is dirty does not mean it has to be hated upon or treated maliciously.
It is organisations like ARB, Obhoyaronno and others who work relentlessly to ensure the basic rights of the animals. For the sake of humanity, it is high time people acted kindly.
Adopting an foreign and exotic breed of animal is more of a fashion statement. People neglect our local breeds, preferring foreign ones instead. But non-Bengalis often get startled admiring the beauty of our cats. We undermine our specialities so badly that we neglect true beauty.
People living in metropolitan cities are now somewhat aware of animal rights. However, rural districts highlight an entirely opposite scenario where people chronically neglect all animals, adopted or otherwise.
Awareness can be increased among the masses by distributing pamphlets, leaflets, conducting seminars that will be taken seriously.
The government needs to develop animal-friendly policies as we humans are the only resort to their betterment. It is high time we behaved humanely with animals.
Sayere Nazabi Sayem is an Associate at Bangladesh Forum for Legal and Humanitarian Affairs' Research Department.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.