CHENNAI: Leelavathi’s thatched-roof hut is on a narrow lane, lined with garbage piles. It has two rooms that cannot accommodate more than 5 people, but she is surrounded by seven dogs. Leelavathi calls them Brownie, Karuppa, Caesar, Tally, Blacky, Tiger and Puppy, and herself a mother of all the four-legged beings.
Mother of a one-and-a-half-year-old baby girl, she enters her home, looks at all her dogs and says, “Amma Vandhuerruken da!” (Your mother has come!) All the tails are up and wagging to receive her.
Leelavathi was associated with an animal rescue NGO in the city for six years, two years back she quit her job because she had a baby. But her love for animals keeps her tied to rescue operations in the city.
In the six years she worked with the NGO she learnt how to feed birds and squirrels, and now has nearly 25 squirrels and 10 to 15 birds at her home.
Squirrels are her specialty and she knows how to care for them from birth. “New-born squirrels are usually fragile and need a lot of care, they must be fed every four hours with milk and honey using in a ink filler or syringe without a needle,” she says.
All the squirrels and birds she has were injured and found on roads or they were a nuisance to a few residents and were abandoned. “I bring them home,” she says.
Caesar, a 13-year-old Dalmatian, lies in the centre of one of the rooms. She says that this boy was abandoned by his owners when they were shifting homes. “From the day they left him here he has been sick and later we figured out that his kidneys aren’t functioning... but he is my son too,” she says, caressing his head.
How does Leela, with her husband a daily-wage labourer and a baby daughter, manage to take care of the rescued animals? For the past four months she has been selling herbal products and she proudly shares that her earnings go into feeding her pet dogs, birds and squirrels.
She was always fond of animals, right from when she was 10 years old. “Whenever I would find dogs or cats on the road, I would pick them up and bring them home,” she says, beaming.
Today, her daughter follows her around as Leela feeds their cat and plays around with the baby squirrels. “She is like me, and I will make sure she also loves animals just as I do, when she grows old,” she laughs.
Leela usually feeds her squirrels with fresh fruits such as papaya, chikku and mango, crows and other birds with rice balls and grains, and her dogs and cats with milk, meat and Pedigree. “Money is of little account, when it comes to them,” she says.
Leelavathi says that we need to extremely cautious and observant while caring for birds and squirrels. “You must remove a sick squirrel or bird from the rest so that they don’t spread the disease,” she says.
To pet parents, she pleads: “Please do not abandon your pets, they don’t know where to go or what to do. Adopt them only if you can take care of them. If you can’t, don’t and they will find good homes somehow.”