CHENNAI: The care of street dogs strays, as they are often dismissed has long since been left to the good Samaritans. While the Corporation sticks to its standard ‘catch, neuter and release’ routine, it’s the NGOs and welfare networks who take the time to arrange for their rehabilitation. Going past mere comfort, Megha Jose of Coimbatore decided to tackle the question of purpose for these canine comrades. All thanks to the inspiration that Netflix’s documentary, Dogs, had to offer.
“The film was about how a service dog changes the life of a girl with epilepsy. It made me think about dogs and how to make lives better with their help,” says the former Cisco, Bengaluru, employee, who quit her job and moved back to Coimbatore to start The Pawsome People Project with an aim of training street dogs as service dogs. The project was introduced in the cities of Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Kochi on March 15.
In 2019, Megha approached animal welfare activist Mini Vasudevan, who runs the Humane Animal Society in Kovai. “She made me understand the various issues concerned with the animal welfare space like population, lack of resources, and badly treated dogs. That’s when I realised that I should tackle these problems before I jump into training street dogs. So, I slowly shifted the mandate of the organisation, and started focusing on increasing manpower and funds,” she says.
What started with a group of 10-15 volunteers has now become a community with over 300 members. They work towards sterilising street dogs with the help of local animal shelters and rescue abandoned, abused or injured animals. Looking at the project’s success in Coimbatore — 150 adoptions, and over 200 rescues and sterilisation each dog lovers from other cities contacted Megha, wanting to replicate her work in their vicinity. That’s when the team called for volunteers from across India to join them. They heard the most noise from these four cities.
“We are talking to animal shelters, private vets and on-site doctors, who we can partner with for rescue, sterilisation, etc. It’s the exact same model that we follow in Coimbatore. Currently, we are strategising to get new people and getting on ground,” says Megha adding that rescue operations have begun in these cities. Megha’s trusted team of 11 leaders is her support system, helping her with the expansion. “There is at least one team leader in the cities we have expanded to and they are networking with volunteers and animal shelters, and are also setting up a core team to us,” she shares.
For Megha, a pet mom to six-year-old Benji, a golden retriever, Pawsome is not just about helping the dogs but creating community awareness as well. “Most of our volunteers’ first pet was a pure breed. After joining the project, most of them have adopted an indie breed. This is the kind of community awareness I wish to create. We send out three posts on our Instagram page every week about dogs in general. I want to build a community of animal lovers and change the mindset of people,” she says.
While she is working to make the project a success, Megha is also working on introducing service dogs in India. “I have a hearing-impaired sister. So, when I watched that documentary, I wondered if my sister’s life would have been better if she had had a service dog. So, the motivation to start Pawsome was to help people like her. But, training dogs to become service dogs will need monetary and human resources. We are still in the nascent stage of this wing of the project. This is our long-term goal and research is on,” she assures.
Her current goal is to control the population of strays. For this, she takes inspiration from like-minded people in Goa. In 2003, the Goa Animal Welfare Trust (GAWT) partnered with the state government to work on their Animal Birth Control (ABC) plan and have sterilised more than 12,000 dogs since. This has reduced the number of strays significantly. Taking a leaf out of GAWT’s plan of action, Megha wishes to work along with the state governments in ABC projects.
The Pawsome people
Megha Jose: Founder
Mary Chandy: Operations head
Kiirthana R: HR head
Varsha Venkatraman: Fundraising head
Viren Dave: Projects head
Giri Mugundan: Senior designer
Gayathri Kasilingam: Junior designer
Yashank Fomra: Senior marketing head
Amrutha Ramachandran: Content writer
Karan Rana: Strategist
Rishi Bharadwaj: Junior marketing head
To volunteer, visit www.pawsomepeople.org. Instagram page: @pawsomepeopleproject