“Come here Tiger...Tiger COME. Tiger?” The owners of this mongrel were trying their earnest best to get their pet a little closer. And funnily enough, the bribe was a Tiger biscuit. It was 10am on a cloudly weekday. And this reporter was foot, accompanying a team of vets and dog catchers on a mission. The goal – to vaccinate all the dogs in the West Mogappair area. Battling muck and slush and sudden speeding bikes on narrow lanes is no joke. Especially if you’ve been at it since 5am, without any breakfast. But the group of people of this mission aka Mission Rabies – an initiative by UK’s World Veterinary Services (WVS) in association with the Blue Cross of India – well let’s just say, these guys had a lot more stamina than this reporter did. Eventually Tiger did get his shot. So did his sister/girlfriend Jenny (also part of the home). And after much walking, stopping, long jumping over puddles and chasing after strays – so did almost every other dog along the crowded Mogappair inner lanes. But let’s start from the very beginning...Warning: don’t volunteer to do this without your canvas shoes on.
There is plenty of chaos in a live vaccination drive that hits the streets. Traffic. Honks. Curious bystanders. And the one off animal lover that questions who these people are with voluminous blue nets. “But nobody in the posh areas has ever asked us why we’re catching dogs to inject them, that only happens in the slums where people seem to be more protective of their animals,” observes Dawn Williams, General Manager of the Blue Cross, as he leads the campaign, following closely behind the trail of dog catchers. “We really wouldn’t be able to get anything done without them,” he nods his head. And every time one of these skillful lads swoops down on a stray with his net, there is a loud shriek, teeth bared. “It’s traumatic for the animal, that’s we try and get the whole process – catch to injection to release, done in under a minute,” says UK-based vet and volunteer Lisa Angus. But, it isn’t over yet until the dog has been marked with a natural pink dye or paper collar (for an owned pet) in order to distinguish the animal during the post survey.
“We do a post survey of the area a few days later to ensure that at least 70 per cent of the dogs in that area have been covered,” explains Ashwin SS, another vet-cum-volunteer with WVS. And to ensure the numbers are organised, the team enters the information of each successful vaccination into a data programme called Epicollect. “That is gender, neutered or not, the location and of course the anti-rabies vaccination,” Ashwin continues. It’s detailed work. And to this group of ambitious animal lovers – every dog counts. It’s 11am now and sweat is pouring down in bullets. We finally stop for some tea. There are more dogs that need the vaccine. I ask, “What about the anti-rabies vaccine for humans. Is that on you too?” It’s a pretty British vet nurse who answers this time. “Luckily for Chennai we don’t need them because the rabies count is very low, but in a few other cities, they do take the precaution.” She smiles a minute later, “If any of us (Chennai volunteers) do get rabies, it will probably be from all the licking that we’ve had over the last week!”