CHENNAI: Bhavani sat with her legs folded under her, staring blankly at the wall as she chewed her food rhythmically. Dark, toothless and definitely on the heavy side, she made no attempt to acknowledge the others in the room. At 24, she was an old cow.
Eighty-year-old Dr Sadhana Rao watched her from a distance and her face creased into a smile. “Bhavani is my favourite. These 480 animals are all I have,” she said looking around the 25 acre-ghosala, a shelter for cows that were rescued from slaughter houses and old temple cows.
The Indian Institute of Animal Welfare, as the ghosala is called, is 41 years old. It was started in Neelankarai with just half-a-dozen cows before it was shifted to Oothukottai in Thiruvallur district.
The shelter at Neelankarai had to be shut down because the neighbours thought it was a nuisance — mosquitoes, noise and the smell. “They told us that it will lead to diseases. I still do not understand how,” she said as she inspected a cancer-stricken cow, Revathi. Dr Sadhana has made many life-changing decisions, none that she regrets. She decided not to marry.
When the ghosala began to expand in the 1980s, she decided to discontinue practising medicine and look after the cows full-time and when her neighbours moved to court, demanding the ghosala be closed down, she chose not to fight. The last decision, however, cost her several donors who wanted the ghosala to remain in Neelankarai.
The average monthly expenditure for the cow shelter is around `7 lakh. She started the rescue operations with her father and older brother with less than 10 cows. Today, she’s the only one alive. Though she is from an affluent family, she now has nothing left to sell or mortgage for the sake of her cause.
Following Dr Sadhana around was Sakthi, who has been managing the shelter for over 25 years. “You see Raja here?” she asked, pointing to a tall, white bull. “He was just a mound of flesh when he was rescued. His legs were broken. Madam stitched him up and see how he is standing now,” she beamed.
“Madam receives a lot of threats from slaughter houses and others from whom the animals were rescued. So we keep an eye on her to ensure her safety,” said R Raghuram, state president, Gau Raksha Dal, who visits the shelter with his team.
He believes the key to stop owners from selling their cattle to slaughter houses is to create awareness about the different products that can be made from cow dung and urine. “It offers the owners an incentive to keep them after they stop producing milk rather than selling them for whatever they get,” he said.
Dr Sadhana was seen at a distance, inspecting a young cow recovering from a fracture. “She has forgotten all about treating humans. She’s an animal doctor now,” Sakthi smiled.