by Siraj Davis
As a youth, I vividly recollect never feeling aware of the false canard that felines and canines are natural rivals, until by chance, I over-heard children at my school. Cartoons also humorously regurgitated this theme. I, on the other hand, experienced contrary. As a child, I had a beautiful and witty German shepherd, named Hooter. His former owner was a Military Police (MP) officer and I strongly believe his relinquishment of arduous job duties such as meticulously sniffing out drugs and aggressively chasing down criminals, while a member of ‘my’ family, brought the best out of his radiant personality. You couldn’t discern if Hooter was a highly trained disciplined MP dog while with me. He was briskly playful, always smiled widely , amazingly could count via barking to the number of fingers held up, was an expert at cajoling for delicious snacks, and stubbornly refused to sleep alone never ceasing to shadow me to my bedroom. Most importantly, he playfully pawed at, chowed down meals beside, and even calmly nestled with 12 adopted stray cats. We were a very happy family, a miniature Utopia oblivious to the world’s precarious judgmental prejudices. However, eventually, my mother and step-father sadly and unexpectedly divorced and Hooter was given away. It broke my heart, and still does. I miss Hooter dearly.
It was under such nascent beginnings that I felt ultimately compelled to author this sincere publication upon personal experiences pertaining to animal rights in an ancient land where various prophets ‘did’ respect our amazing fellow creatures, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. I have been residing in the Middle East for 6 years as a teacher while publishing articles and videos highlighting refugees’ rights and corruption in the region. Sights of animal cruelty in –oddly- the nation of Jesus’ baptism (Jordan) chilled my nerves like sudden freezing Antarctic zephyrs that both petrified and enraged me into teeth grinding memories today. As strangely and unlikely as a warm-blooded Opah fish in a cold ocean, it was tragic commonality to reluctantly witness young destitute children who would playfully toss firecrackers at stray felines or swing defenseless cats in a circle by tails, while swiftly glancing in my direction for a brief laugh, exhilarating applause, any indication of approval. One poor four-legged furry victim -behind a café in Westa Balad’s back streets- sprinted covering as much earth as the Peregrine Falcon in a short time and yowled in utter pain, sporadically stopping to hastily and desperately paw at his or her jaw in similar yet much quicker motion as a house mouse cleaning its face with its paws. This benign cat’s lower jaw had been blown in half by a firecracker. This horrible event felt succinctly eerie as the feline’s cries were drowned by background laughter, as in a scene from “Children of the Corn.” Careless adults surrounding us, who witnessed it, said nothing in acquiescence. It was also the norm to peruse adolescents intentionally “Fast and Furious” race down Abdoun and Jabal Al Weibda streets while purposely targeting stray tabbies helplessly scurrying across the traffic. Their parents’ vehicles miserably becoming a deadly instrument of emetic bravado, as their asinine teenagers aimed at an extra ranking on their uniform of miserable adulthood by ending a precious creature’s life, underneath the steel emotionless muffler of dad or mom’s luxury car. I saw this many times.
The average world life expectancy hints that I possess 20 years more in this interesting world, and I will forever recollect strolling down a steep hill one day toward the bottom of Thalat Naveen Street- near the University of Jordan- and curiously witnessing the surprising image of a petite kitten squatting motionless, while staring unresponsively past my ankles. I paused in my tracks at wonder as if it was a unicorn sighting. After noticing several pedestrians shamelessly stroll past without any breaking to feed or even kindly pet the fragile life, I glared closer to behold it intermittently shivering, as if cold under the steaming hot sun. Something dwelled within me to exert my concern into action. I picked the fur ball up and returned to my apartment. My excited foraging in my refrigerator for victuals ended in dismay as the feline refused to eat or drink water. I then gave the dirty angel a miniature bath and upon my wife’s arrival, we decided to call the Pet Zone near the 8th circle of Amman, Jordan. After explaining the strange symptoms, the vet directly advised we abandon our concern, abscond from conscience, for the lonely stray feline. A male voice on the other end of the telephone explained the cat’s condition exposed a common disease –I can’t recollect the name now-many cats in Jordan regularly die from. My wife, Ameera, and I were strongly warned we would be foolishly wasting the 50 JD fee for a check up to confirm this. Nevertheless, we delivered our new friend by taxi to the Vet Zone and paid the bill. I really, sincerely, desired the best for this unknown stranger. God knows. On a teacher’s meager salary in Jordan, I shouldn’t have done this. A 50 JD fee while employed in Jordan as a teacher considering the exorbitant cost of living is like Somalia with an average annual Gross Domestic Product of $1 billion financing its own $1.2 billion Saudi Arabian Kingdom Tower (the tower will be the new highest sky scraper in the world). But, I didn’t care the cost to give this one soul a chance. My pride in our noble act, metamorphisized into desperate hope and sincere prayers during the late evening, which abruptly ended early the next morning. We learned the unknown kitten died. Worse, without asking, Pet Zone disposed of the kitten’s body in a nearby dumpster.
This deeply scarred me. Rattled me to the core as when I uncomfortably witnessed the heartless death of “Two Socks” in the film Dances with Wolves. I can imagine that the last precious memories of this feline were the many uncaring pedestrians who strolled past it without noticing, of me and Ameera’s compassion, and the weird heartless rubber gloves and lonely cage of Pet Zone. I wish it were different. My sullen sadness was met by my energetic resilience and that same week, I unintentionally upset my lovely wife even more. She tiredly returned home from work to unexpectedly discover that I adopted 5 stray cats, replacing the preceding tragedy with 5 positive acts. Although reluctant at the thought of extra responsibility, my patient and compassionate wife agreed. We loyally raised those tabbies to the apogee of our abilities. They freely departed in the mornings and returned at nights as they wished, munched on nutritious meat daily (Ameera fed them chicken when most Jordanians could only afford meat a couple times weekly), meticulously -with a few occasional defensive scratching- were bathed in warm water, closely cuddled, were rewarded with new toys weekly, and slumbered where ever and whenever. Neighbors sometimes took notice and shockingly stared in absolute astonishment at how one would routinely follow me to and from the taxi before and after work, another would stroll beside Ameera to the nearby grocery store and back while a couple motorists slowed their vehicles down glaring with disbelief, and a third would patiently wait –oblivious or unafraid of other residents passing beside him to enter - at the front door minutes prior our arrival. We were family. An extraordinary assorted blissful bunch like the abnormal Adam’s family, but we were still family. Such love extended past our home as well. We began occasionally feeding the cats digging in the dumpsters at work, tuna cans. We did it not only for the lovely cats, but to hopefully repair something damaged within us since that unknown kitten appeared and vanished like an apparition, something we both were legitimately terrified Jordan would crowbar out of us, a conscience.
However, the absence of education into a poverty-stricken culture without respect for animals slowly dismantled that glimmer of light Ameera and I began. I now realize that unknown kitten was not solely a test of our conscience, but an augury -like the Grey Man ghost of Pawney Island South Carolina- of worse tribulations to storm. One day arriving from work, I suddenly heard Ameera quickly gasp while screaming the name of our eldest feline, Komi. I realized he was slowly limping; his back leg was barely dangling from the side of his body. He was struck by a car. Pet Zone stitched him up. We were happy to witness his gradual recuperative adjustment. It became humorous to view the spectacle of him occasionally attempting to vainly scratch his ear with a missing leg. It also was cute to see him inevitably hop with such speed as a miniature kangaroo on caffeine. After several months though, another unusual injury occurred. This time a deep laceration displayed precise linear cuts against his fragile old skin sparking suspicion if this was intentional. And this time, my experience with Pet Zone was one which I will never slip from my mind in consequence to the repercussive explosive rage as a result of Pet Zone’s unconscionable gross negligence and callous treatment of Komi. Ameera rushed Komi to Pet Zone and reluctantly informed the ‘business’ that we would pay the bill at the beginning of the following month, when we are administered our salaries. I believe this was a reasonable request. Apparently, I was surprisingly wrong. Pet Zone informed Ameera that Komi was awaiting pick up and in her rush she neglected to open the carrier and peer closely inside. Instead she scrambled him home, opening the carrier’s door to reveal Komi exiting with a gaping hole the size of a baseball –exposing his internal organs- where the prior wound existed. Pet Zone sliced him open as if in preparation for a Biology class dissection lesson. I phoned them enraged screaming and being held forcefully back by Ameera as I attempted to visit the doctor personally. Inevitably Pet Zone agreed to correct this, and they did. However, this act was a clear emetic tacit message from the Pet Zone in Jordan. Pay them the money when demanded if we want them to sincerely care about animals. Otherwise your feline companion may be heedlessly subjected to Jordanian Saw hospitality.
One after another, those feline companions, our Adam’s family, succumbed to a tragic destiny only our omnipotent creator comprehends. One named Yo Yo disappeared. We don’t know what happened to him. Baka died by a car’s impact judging from his hit and run wounds. Another, a garbage man helpfully pointed my wife’s distressful search outside one sunny day to a dirty dumpster where Ginger’s body and decapitated head laid inside. The fourth, Jo Jo, was laid to rest from the same malignant disease as the unknown kitten. Komi was the sole remaining survivor of that adopted family we nurtured. One day, several armed Jordanian government officials who would have been the perfect movie stand-ins for The Hills Have Eyes hillbillies, uninvitingly entered my home and casually informed me that I and my wife must leave Jordan in exile due to my activities as a journalist. We had a dearth amount of time to pack a few of our possessions and no time to search for Komi. We left Jordan and reached our new destination in Iraq, without him. Again, my happy family, oblivious to the world’s prejudices and divisions, ultimately ended via uncontrollable and unexpected forces with coerced separation, as with Hooter. I miss those loving cats dearly today, all of them. While Ameera cries occasionally, I am proud of our efforts because I know – even with pets - the good die young and they are in a much more compassionate place. I sometimes stare in silence into the dark night sky imagining what their words of solace or gratitude would be, when I meet those precious souls above. And I deeply regret the ends they all met in this life.
My sadness is an emotional coin with double sides though. I am not only deeply sullen by those I lost, but disappointingly bereaved by such animal cruelty’s implications for the region’s culture as a whole. I recollect while employed as a History teacher for 5 years in Jordan’s international private schools, it was a normal occurrence for faculty and administrators to insult students with calling them “heywan” (animals) as a means of scrutinizing correction of undesired behavior, via reminding students to act differently than animals. However, this unorthodox cultural norm inadvertently accentuates the very flawed cultural values of the Hashemite Kingdom pertaining to animal rights. And in unperceived consequence of aggrandizing human worth above the animal, this same afflicted region may have unknowingly contributed to their own persistent turmoil and conflict between Shia and Sunni, Christian and Muslim, Palestinian and Israeli, and more diverse humans’ rights. As American Conservationist and Marine Biologist Rachel Carson averred, “we cannot have peace among men whose hearts delight in killing any living creature.”