Aysha Akhtar was only five when a close family friend began molesting her. The abuse continued for five years and across two continents, after her family moved from London to Virginia. She told no one.
Then came Sylvester, a German shepherd mix technically belonging to a relative, but basically her dog. They shared friendship, kinship, walks in the woods … and abuse, as Sylvester’s owner’s idea of training was throwing him against a wall.
Akhtar, now a neurologist and public health specialist, recounts their journey and much more in Our Symphony with Animals: On Health, Empathy, and Our Shared Destinies (Pegasus Books, 2019).
Writing this book took Akhtar into not only her own history, but into a slaughterhouse, an animal sanctuary, a prison, and a forensic necropsy by an ASPCA veterinarian. She even corresponded with and visited an imprisoned serial killer who’d also abused animals. Akhtar does this both as an accomplished physician and scholar and as a human being who is deeply affected by what she sees and hears.
Through it all, she challenges us to examine the ways we break with and join with animals in our actions and attitudes. The effect one life can have on another, even and especially across species lines, is profound. It was Sylvester who helped the young Akhtar find the strength to stand up first for him, then for herself.
The stories here range from inspiring to devastating, but you can visit the author’s website for suggestions on how to make a difference. That one starfish is counting on it.