This article was first published in August 2017.
If you're an animal lover living in Pakistan, you've most probably heard about Ayesha Chundrigar, her foundation and all they do for animal welfare.
Kicking off a new initiative called Project Empathy, the Ayesha Chundrigar Foundation has joined hands with The AAS Trust and invited children from their halfway house unit who are undergoing rehabilitation after their drug addiction treatment has been completed, to come by and spend time at the shelter in the hopes of helping them reintegrate back into society as well-adjusted individuals.
"Animals are born carriers of empathy. They don't judge, they don't have expectations, they don't criticise. They love you, are loyal and accept you for exactly who you are. They see your soul, your purity, not what circumstances have made you," shares Ayesha.
"ACF believes animals are the best medium by which we can teach others to not just be compassionate and emphatic towards animals but also towards oneself and people around us."
She adds: "It is almost therapeutic to be surrounded by our rescued shelter animals who have all endured some trauma and seen intense pain and sadness and today, are funny, happy and adorable individuals with huge personalities who don't let their scars, suffering and injuries slow them down. And we wanted to share that with those who need it the most."
"We also wanted to help these kids who, due to circumstances, have abused their bodies and minds so much, to learn to be empathic towards themselves. Learn responsibility by caring for the animals by feeding and bathing the puppies and kittens and moreover, learning about each animal's story of hardship as a means of reflecting on their own."
ACF collaborated with Umar Riaz, who reached out to them after seeing their posts on social media and held a photo shoot at the shelter where each child posed with their favourite animal.
The children range from age 8 to 15 and below are stories from 10 of them:
1) M* and Peggy
"I'm 13 or 14 years old. I've been in rehab for three-and-a-half months now. I came here because I was addicted to intoxicants - hookah, paan, and cigarettes. My old friends introduced me to intoxicants. Sometimes I meet my parents when I get the chance. I like cats and dogs equally. I've left intoxicants completely now after being in a state of intoxication for three to four years."
Peggy came to the ACF shelter all the way from Islamabad. She was found there and rescued with half of her lower body covered in blood. Her leg had to be amputated. She was sent to ACF for recovery and has been there for over a year now. She's playful, energetic and loving and doesn't even realise that she is missing a limb. Despite it, she is a fast runner.
2) S* and Oreo
"I don't know how old I am. This is my third treatment for intoxicants. When I felt like it, I left my home. I used to drink bhung in particular. I started it because I liked the feeling it gave me."
Oreo is a deaf kitten. He came to the shelter as a petrified, tiny, and deaf baby. He was dehydrated and malnourished, hiding on the corner of a road. He would start shaking if anyone went near him. It took ages to rehabilitate him and get him to trust humans.
3) I* and Babloo
"I am twelve years old. I've been at the children's shelter for three years. I ran away from home several times and got into drugs and alcohol with my friends. It felt strange in the beginning. No one in my family does this. I'm happy now though. I used to study in school but then my grandmother died and I fell into intoxication. My family sent me here. I had a good time at the shoot today."
Bubloo came to the ACF shelter as a tiny abandoned orphaned puppy. He was very scared and didn't eat for days out of fear. He was a victim of abuse as he was terrified of humans. Yet, within three days, with just a little bit of care, he went through a positive transformation. He was named by the AAS children themselves when they first visited.
4) I* and Snow
"I am 13 years old. This is my second treatment and my seventh month with the AAS Foundation. I used to take intoxicants and cause trouble in my home. My family sent me here. I used to do it with my friends and it felt good. We used to say to ourselves, “Let's take a couple of drags today then tomorrow.
"Then it developed into a habit. My father only smokes cigarettes, never intoxicants. I love my family. Tomorrow they're going to pick me up and we'll visit my old home."
Snow is an abandoned pet who came to the ACF shelter almost a year ago. She had a terrible eye infection in both eyes and was left hungry for days at her previous home. She was very shy at first but after a few months, she became (and still is) this confident spunky girl. She is very intelligent and ever so loving.
5) R* and Missy
"I am 12 years old. I’ve been in rehab for a month now. I used to take drugs while wandering around the streets with my friends. I love animals, I feel a lot of love for them. If I leave where I am, I'll get into intoxicants again so I'm staying here for now."
Missy came to the ACF shelter as a tiny pup. Her leg was broken after being hit by a car and had to amputated. She was terrified and wouldn't even allow the vets to treat her. She didn't eat for days. Now she's one of the funniest, brightest personalities at the shelter. She loves to dig in the mud and jump into a full tub. She is very sprightly and naughty.
6) I* and Limpy
"I do not know how old I am. I used to drink alcohol and smoke hookah. I ran away from home and got into intoxicants. My family members, especially my father, used to beat me a lot so I felt I had to run away. I'm better now and I've been at the shelter for years."
Limpy came to the ACF shelter over six months ago. Skinny, scrawny, and completely malnourished with a broken bleeding leg, she had been hit by a car and was in danger of bleeding to death. ACF treated her but couldn't amputate the leg as it was too close to her main arteries and nerves. That said, she has healed fantastically. Now she is loving, friendly and very funny.
7) A* and Daboo
"I'm eight years old. I've been at the AAS shelter for a year and a half. My family lives in the Punjab. I came to Karachi alone, maybe two years ago. I came on a train after running away from home. I don't talk to my family. I'm happy here."
Daboo came to the ACF shelter as an abandoned pet. Someone had tied a rubber band on her paw as a sick joke. The paw was completely swollen and infected and took very long to heal. She was petrified and didn't trust humans, scratching wildly and crying during treatment. Now she is so friendly and loving, walking with a limp.
8) M* and Barry
"I’m 12 years old. I’ve been at the AAS shelter for a year. I got into drugs because of my friends but now I have different friends. I like the animals here. I like playing here. I like the cats in particular."
Barry had a broken leg as a kitten which had remained untreated. When he was rescued, his bone had bent and his leg was infected. ACF fixed up the infection before it turned septic and Barry underwent physiotherapy for his leg. He still walks with his leg pointing backwards but he hops away confidently and doesn't let his injury hold him back.
9) Q* and Alice
Q came to the AAS facility three months ago. His family brought him here. He's almost nine years old. He's come to the ACF shelter for the first time today and wished to be photographed with a puppy.
Alice was run over by a motorcycle which broke her leg. The kind man who found her immediately took her to get her leg treated and plastered and then called ACF. Alice was terrified and very meek at first. Today, the leg is completely fine. She runs around and is so playful and adorable. She still has a hernia that needs to be operated on when she gains more strength.
10) Y* and Thomas
"I'm a little more than 10 years old. I can’t remember how long I’ve been at the AAS facility, probably more than a year. I was addicted to hookah, paan and charas. I had no idea what it was when I started. My father found out and brought me here. Initially, I stopped eating and vomited often. I never felt like leaving it though. I love cats and dogs, especially Oreo. I feel happy being at the ACF shelter."
This is Thomas. He came to the ACF shelter as a tiny kitten with a terrible eye infection and wound on his face. He was malnourished and orphaned. Now completely he is completely healed, playful, and adorable.
- Names have been changed to protect individuals’ identities