An angel in disguise: Zeba Masood doesn’t let an animal’s cry go unanswered

Despite threats of violence, harassment and more, Masood proudly runs LAPS, an animal shelter in Charsadda, where she cares for injured street animals.
15 Mar, 2024

Away from the everyday hustle and bustle of big city life, in the quiet town of Charsadda, an elderly woman sits in the midst of hundreds of dogs. She pets all the broken animals that walk up to her, never running out of hugs and kisses to shower upon them.

The dogs, mostly in plasters and bandages, look up to her with sparkling eyes, all of them vying for the perfect spot — her lap.

“They are all my babies,” Zeba Masood said with a warm smile spread wide across her face.

An animal lover, she has been running Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s first animal shelter, Lucky Animal Protection Shelter or LAPS, for the past six years without a single day off. The organisation not only provides shelter to stray animals but also finds them loving homes, a far cry from the lives of torture, hatred and pain they’ve had to endure.

“The animals here were beaten to exhaustion; some of them had broken limbs, some were ruthlessly poisoned and left on the roads to die, some were starved to the extent where I found them nibbling on plastic and paper,” Masood recalled.

“This is the story not of a single neighbourhood, but of every corner, every street.

“The sight of these voiceless creatures, battered and abused, pains me in ways that are impossible to put into words,” she told Images, her voice laced with frustration and hurt.

Sowing the seeds

Living in Peshawar, for Masood, the sight of animals in pain was not a new one. Ultimately, that commonplace sight is what led to the creation of LAPS.

She recalls that like most Pakistanis, her parents weren’t very interested in keeping pets at home. But they were kind enough to get her a dog, whom she named Vicky. He stuck with her right till the end, leaving behind his offspring to keep her company.

Masood’s love for animals followed her to the United States, where she lived for nearly 40 years. “Even there, we would always bring strays home and take care of them. Not just me, but my children also feel the same way,” she told Images.

The journey to the creation of LAPS began when she returned to Peshawar in 2017. “I came back due to my mother’s illness, but what deeply disturbed me was the cruelty [on display].”

And so Masood began feeding dogs, cats, donkeys, horses and other strays. She found the perfect companion for these excursions in her husband. The couple would initially carry animal food in the trunk of their car and feed a pack of dogs in an empty plot owned by Masood’s father.

And then one day, she asked her father if she could fence in a small enclosure in the plot for her rescues. After hours of cajoling, LAPS was born.

“The first animal I rescued was a pit bull, Lucky, and named our shelter after him,” she said.

LAPS currently houses nearly 300 dogs. Masood and her small team have so far vaccinated over 5,000 stray animals and neutered more than 3,000 dogs and cats. They have an in-house vet for regular check-ups and call in specialised doctors for monthly visits.

While the operations of the shelter are mostly self-funded, over the years, Masood has built a strong network of donors.

Hurdles aplenty

However, running a shelter hasn’t been an easy job for Masood and her husband.

“For some reason, people never got a hold as to why we were rescuing animals. Even my friends and family would often ask why I chose to open an animal shelter and not a non-profit organisation for ‘humans’.

“They never understood that there are hundreds of NGOs to cater to women, orphans and others. But when it comes to animals, people hardly have anything to give, not sympathy not empathy…these animals can’t even speak for themselves or express the pain they feel,” she argued.

There were days when Masood would wake up to the walls of her shelter chalked with obscenities. On other days, men would throw stones and bricks at the rescued animals, harming without a single reason. Some even tried to shoot her strays.

Ye na-paak hain [they are impure]” and “Yahan farishtay nahi ayengain [angels won’t come here]” are two of the refrains she heard every day.

“One day,” she told Images, “a local jirga came to my house and grabbed my husband by the collar.” Fortunately, the police intervened in time but a few days later, the jirga rammed her door again and this time she was alone. The police were called again and while they forced the group to disperse, they could not root out the problem.

“Instead, they told me to relocate and move to the quiet town of Charsadda,” Masood recalled. And so LAPS, with all its dogs and donkeys, travelled about 20.9 kilometres south of Peshawar, away from the hatred and curses.

The price of kindness

While her animals bring her immense happiness, witnessing the hatred directed at the furry-legged creatures over the past six years has taken a toll on Masood.

There are days when she is plagued with self-doubt. “Am I doing enough?” she often asks herself.

“As we speak, my team is trying to save a dog […] somebody is trying to shoot them and we are trying our best to rescue the animal,” Masood said. This is not the first time such an incident has occurred — she has seen far worse.

“Because of the prevailing gun culture in the province, most of the cases we see are of animal shootings,” she highlighted.

Over the last six years, Masood has seen teenagers throwing days-old kittens into gutters, people poisoning mother dogs and their newborn litters, and men beating donkeys to death.

“Sometimes, we would rescue animals only to watch them die at LAPS because their condition is so, so bad and no matter how hard we try we just can’t save them,” she lamented.

The 2022 floods, Masood recalled, were one of the most traumatic periods in her life. LAPS lost 15 dogs during the deluge, as up to seven feet of floodwater entered the shelter. “The smaller dogs we took home, but we had no other option but to leave the bigger ones on the roof of the shelter.”

When the situation grew too dangerous, she had to relocate the animals. But that was another challenge. “You cannot imagine the kind of harassment we faced, even from supposedly educated people…it was just pure heartache,” she said.

A long journey ahead

While these experiences have left Masood deeply unsettled, they also showed her how important it is to keep moving forward and do more.

LAPS, she said, spays and vaccinates at least five stray dogs and cats a week. “That is nothing, I would want to vaccinate at least 10 dogs a day, but unfortunately I don’t have the funds to do so.”

Therefore, Masood is now trying to reach out to international donors, both for funds and help with adoption. She believes that vaccinating stray dogs and cats is extremely important, not just for the animals themselves but also to keep humans safe.

She wants to create awareness, particularly among the younger generations. “We need to educate our kids to treat animals with compassion and be empathetic. Only when we do this will we be able to create a better society,” said Masood.

She also wants to bring acceptance into society. This world, she said, is as much theirs as it is ours. The only way forward is coexistence.

To illustrate her point, Masood quotes Mahatma Gandhi: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

This March, Images is profiling trailblazing women who are, in their own ways big or small, stirring change in our society. Women who inspire us and women who make us proud. You can read all our stories on inspiring Pakistani women here.

Trailblazers and change makers


Abdul Wahid Awan Mar 15, 2024 09:48am
Thanks Zeba. You have a big heart. May you get reward for your kindness in this world and here after.
Ishrat Hyatt Mar 15, 2024 10:42am
Bravo! Keep up the good work. I read the story below. "Turks up in arms over killing of stray cat "- the young man was sent to prison. That is the kind of society we need to have here - one that has sympathy and empathy for all forms of life.
M.Khalid Shahbaz Mar 15, 2024 11:26am
These stray dogs became big dangeour after SC decision as there is no system to control them . they move in groups ,bite citizens, spread virus from one place to other place and also spread the garbage on street to get food for them. some eliots want to take care of animals at the price of human being.
Farrukh Mian Mar 15, 2024 11:40am
An incredible ongoing story of compassion for other living beings. Beating of animals should become a punishable offence.
Taj Ahmad Mar 15, 2024 12:15pm
Great job helping animals.
Yasmin Mar 15, 2024 12:28pm
You are doing what i have only dreamt about
NYS Mar 15, 2024 02:24pm
@Farrukh Mian in Turkeya they adore cats keeping this scenario, camera eye captured a man who was hitting stray cat and sentence for three years lately
Ayesha Mar 15, 2024 03:17pm
Great work LAPS.
Yaseen Zaidi Mar 15, 2024 04:07pm
ACF must be seething to see someone other than them getting recognition.
Mohan Chaudhari Mar 15, 2024 04:19pm
Great! I am also Animal Lover and compete vegetarian person. We must stand against cruelty of Animals !
Shaila Andrabi Mar 15, 2024 04:26pm
Zeba you are amazing. I visited your shelter in 2022 and was blown away by the enormity of the task and how diligently you were doing it without taking any time for yourself. You are truly an inspiration.
Adnan Mazher Khan Mar 15, 2024 05:03pm
How can we provide financial assistance?
Faisal Mar 15, 2024 05:14pm
Animal are getting lots of love and care by Miss Zeba but does she know their are lots of human children in her town have not enough food to eat wear proper cloths access to education . Very sad
waseem afzal Mar 15, 2024 05:33pm
Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful and moving story with us. I really appreciate the work done by Mrs. Zeba Masood. It is quite common in our society due to convoluted understanding of Islam to mistreat stray animals. Instead Islam's imperative is a universal mercy and Mrs. Zeba's work is a wonderful example of that mercy.
cyrus Mar 15, 2024 05:51pm
Keep up the good work.You are indeed Angel in gisguise.
A Subhan Mar 15, 2024 05:57pm
It is a very uncommon thing in our society. A big salute to Zeba Massod's efforts to provide shelter and compassion to animals.
Vikram Patil Mar 15, 2024 06:02pm
This is so amazing. Brought tears seeing the cruelty. All the best.
Laila Mar 15, 2024 07:13pm
@M Khalid Shahbaz Well some may argue animals are better and more reliable than humans. Animals and human have coexisted since beginning of times. Its not elitist to care for animals if one can. Even poor people care for animals. Animals have rights too in islam.
Ehsan Mar 15, 2024 07:19pm
Zeba sahiba you and your husband are special people caring for most vulnerable in our society and exposing the apathy / cruelty of the people who go against basic human nature and faith to hurt animals. How can one support your endeavor.
Laila Mar 15, 2024 07:20pm
@Adnan Mazher Khan If you read the article from the top, at the very beginning there is an insert of Zebas instagaram post with a photo of her and her rescue animals and below that you can find all the details of how to support her.
Syed Hasni Mar 15, 2024 07:44pm
Raqeebon Ne Rapat Likhwai Hai Ja Ja Ke "Dawn"Main Keh Zeba Naam Leti Hai Khuda Ka Is Zamane Main Syed Hasni- Allahabadi
per Mar 15, 2024 08:13pm
good job indeed...
faraz khan Mar 15, 2024 08:21pm
I am amazed by the hypocrisy of humans, they save dogs and cats but at the same time will kill and exploit animals like cows, goats and chickens. Just look at the conditions of chickens in butcher shops, cramped in small cages on top of each other and looking at their fellow beings being butchered in front of them.
Shehzad Khan Mar 15, 2024 08:47pm
@ Faisal... Bro, that is correct that there might be hungry children, but you cannot feed every child first and only then take care of animals. Why consider dogs/animals and lesser worthy of compassion when they can't even ask for help? Very sad attitude.
St. Mercury Mar 15, 2024 09:53pm
Gut wrenching story. More power to Ms. Masood for standing against up all odds to bring love and care to the neglected and abused animals.
Khaled Mar 15, 2024 10:29pm
Noname Mar 16, 2024 02:10am
Country where millions sleep without meal and human life has no value. People like to build animal shelters seem to me nightmare. May be please also build some shelters for poor people who sleep on footpaths and sleep with empty belly
arman Mar 16, 2024 02:34am
Some one wrote here I Quote """human children in her town have not enough food to eat wear proper cloths access to education"" . Its the fault of the nation but animal suffers Who shall we blame??
Aadil Punjabi Mar 16, 2024 05:11am
Pakistan is a society that lacks compassion and humility. Compare yourselves to India another poverty stricken country (for the most part) but a completely different perspective when it comes to co-existing with nature. I am so glad I don't live in Pakistan anymore, it was nothing but a constant display of the worse in humanity.
Aadil Punjabi Mar 16, 2024 05:13am
Comment by M.Khalid Shahbaz is typical representation of the Pakistani society. Please do not immigrate to the west, stay where you are!!!
Imdad Mar 16, 2024 10:32am
Dogs have coexisted with humans since time immomerial and helped us in terms of security, searching food, hunting prey, managing our herds and being companion during isolation. Therefore, they need special attention and care. LAPS is doing great job which is responsibility of every body.
Syed salahuddin Mar 16, 2024 12:17pm
Islam emphasises on kindness to all humans and animals. Why just dogs need so much attention?
Prakash Mar 16, 2024 03:06pm
You are doing a great service
Anonymouseee Mar 16, 2024 03:25pm
It’s unfortunate that there is no contact information listed to become a donor or help in any other way. I will search for their website. Keep doing the great work madam.
sultan Mar 16, 2024 08:45pm
beautiful. Heaven awaits you
Ikhlaque Chani Mar 16, 2024 11:07pm
Great woman!
Gulmina Mar 17, 2024 12:02am
AMAZING!! SO GREAT! Thank you for your outstanding efforts! More power to you!
Gulmina Mar 17, 2024 12:19am
Zarak Khan Mar 17, 2024 12:59am
1st and only animal shelter in a province of 35 million people. And that also it took a senior citizen of Pakistani origin from the US to set it up. We sure have a long way to go.
Gulmina Qazi Mar 17, 2024 09:25am
Masood Mar 17, 2024 10:34am
That is the kind of society we need to have here - one that has sympathy and empathy for all forms of life.May you get reward for your kindness in this world and here after.An incredible ongoing story of compassion for other living beings. I want to volunteery work with you.
Masood Mar 17, 2024 10:40am
An incredible ongoing story of compassion for other living beings May you get reward for your kindness in this world and here after. I want to do voluntary work with you
Purushottam Mar 17, 2024 11:32pm
When you show sympathy to dogs then why do you slauter and eat goats.It is also cruelty.
Laila Mar 18, 2024 12:56pm
There are people who criticise when people care for animals and suddenly they remember the poor, hungry and homeless humans and children. These are the same people who are blind to the the same poor and homeless people in their streets and neighborhoods. Go on, invite a poor family into your open to break fast at Iftar. Ye to hona nahi inse, lekin batain sun lo inki. Na khud kuch karna, na dusron ko karne dena. Keep up your good work, Zeba. Never mind the haters.
Zarak Khan Mar 18, 2024 04:53pm
@Laila, There is a report published in today’s Dawn newspaper that Peshawar recorded 15,574 dog-bite cases in the first quarter of 2023 alone. Just imagine how many cases go unreported. Rabies is in epidemic form. And you have one Zeba who is fighting this community problem on her own with whatever limited resources she has. And nobody but naysayers in the midst of a hostile environment around her. What a shame !!
Shakil Khan Mar 18, 2024 11:22pm
People should donate generously to cause of Zeba. Newspapers, TV should donate free advertisement space for her Caus,