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The rescue runners

On World Animal Day, Sahana Iyer brings you five stories of strains and struggles of rescuers, feeders, and foster parents, who are giving the abandoned a second chance at life

Published: 04th October 2021 03:13 PM  |   Last Updated: 04th October 2021 03:39 PM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

CHENNAI:  Are we a city of animal lovers when thousands of dogs and cats have to find uncomfortable nooks to escape the rain? Are we fighting for animal rights or merely speaking about it? Are we concerned about animals or just the ones we can parade as our own? 

Animal welfare, while in theory not conditional, poses a different reality in our city. Several misconceptions and biases against strays have led to abandonment and disdain for them. But, in the thick of the injustice, thrives a community of animal feeders, rescuers, and foster pet parents, who are dedicating their lives and resources to keep these animals healthy and well-fed. This World Animal Day, we discuss five — of many — such civilians in the city, who despite the lack of organisational back-up and, at times, moral support have persevered to further the cause they care for, showing us how we can do our part in the same.

A resilient resolve
Amid the panic of the 2015 floods, a 15-year-old boy acknowledged and saved defenceless animals. “I saw the distress of cats and dogs, and began rescuing them. I got them treated and some adopted,” shares the now 21-year-old Sai Vignesh. He started taking more rescue calls; at one point, fostering 20 dogs in his house. This brought him some trouble from neighbours, but he moved forward and eventually managed to open Almighty Animal Sanctuary in Tiruvallur in 2019.

As time progressed, he also began tending to cases of illegal slaughtering of cattle and rescues of other animals. Now, the sanctuary shelters over 100 animals — 59 cattle, 36 dogs, seven goats and pigs. But these stories of success have not come without days of struggle. In the process of filing cases against the illegal slaughter of cattle and dogs, the college student was intimidated and assaulted in March 2021. Even the pandemic has jeopardised the operations of the sanctuary. “It has been horrible during the pandemic since donations began to dwindle. The last two months, I have had to borrow money,” he says. Sai has created a Milaap fundraiser to raise money for the expansion of the sanctuary. He is planning to prepare for the civil services in hopes of making a difference and creating a better society.  

What can you do?
“If a person wants to help, they don’t have to keep 20 dogs; everyone can contribute within their limits. As simple as leaving a water bowl, feeding in their area, taking injured animals to the hospital or raising awareness. Do your bit.”  

To contribute, visit milaap.org/fundraisers/support-m-vignesh

Housing by the bunch
Anuradha Rajkumar’s journey to fostering 33 dogs began as early as her school-going days. She would carry home stray dogs, with no knowledge then of caretaking. With her father in the Air Force, a long-term commitment was not possible. Fast forward to 2002;  one of her walks was interrupted by a puppy’s cry. Seeing Sandy — as she would later be known — inside a broken-down auto, Anuradha knew she had to take action. Since then, there has been no looking back. Feeding, sterilising and rescue missions with her neighbour became a regular affair. She also began fostering some in an attempt to find them a home. Unfortunately, she faced a few cases of dogs returned after adoption and eventually, decided to adopt them herself.

Now, she has an army of 33 rescues but this too came with its challenges. “No one was willing to rent me a house. I had to shift to Kovalam four months ago and pay a high rent because I have no choice,” she shares. Apart from this, the 44-year-old also spends money on food for all her pups and a few dogs back in her previous neighbourhood. Now, she is looking to retire and build her own shelter and trust in the coming years. “I know I am not getting a house after this. I have a big responsibility to have a plan for the dogs, in case something happens to me.” 

Despite having a few fights with her community, Anuradha thinks Chennai has many good Samaritans, especially from the younger generation. “I think the animal welfare community in Chennai is pretty good. The younger generation is doing a lot and many are adopting indies. It makes me so happy,” she exclaims.

What can you do?
“If you are feeding a dog, make sure you also take the responsibility of vaccinating and sterilising them. Take the responsibility of doing it yourself, instead of handing it over to the corporation.”

To donate, contact her at 8939065081

Angel of the night
It was her seventh-grade daughter’s decision to pick up a scrawny ill dog that began Malini Mukund’s journey as an animal feeder and rescuer. Growing up in a conservative family, Malini had no experience with animals at all, but something had changed when she took care of this dog with her daughter, Hamsa. Now, at the age of 59, Malini and her husband Mukund (64), have dedicated their days to taking care of 65 dogs in Koyambedu. A nutritious meal of chicken, liver, rice and boiled eggs is prepared by Malini every day after which, they both go for feeding between 1 am and 5:45 am. “It can be very demanding on the physical, mental and financial resources,” she shares. But why so late? “We go to bus stops to feed animals. In the day, there is so much crowd and the pups are scared to come out. Some of them were born in the pandemic, and are not very familiar with traffic and tend to walk into it. It has happened right in front of me,” she says. The couple also vaccinates, sterilises and medically assists the dogs.

For Malini, feeding the dogs has been more than just about activism. “When I go late at night, I meet so many great people — auto drivers, trans persons, policemen, firefighters. Without the night sessions, I’d not have had the exposure to them at all,” she elaborates. But there have also been bitter experiences to deal with frequently. “There have been unpleasant fights with my neighbours, even police complaints. People don’t want to change their misconceptions about dogs and even tend to use a complaint as leverage to get their way at association squabbles. But, I urge people to unlearn what they think they know and open their minds. These animals cannot defend themselves, so we have to try and understand their perspective,” she shares.

What can you do?
“Get to know your local veterinarian and build a good rapport with them, then begin feeding and then, neutering the dogs to control their population.”

Laying down the animal law
When it comes to animal welfare, V Meghna Reddy does not show off on any social media despite diligently feeding dogs for over 10 years. A resident of Pallikaranai, she buys and cooks rice, chicken and liver for 20-25 dogs in her neighbourhood every single day. She feeds them one meal a day and some biscuits at night, and has done so in every neighbourhood she has lived in. This demanding schedule — and her dedication to follow it — has had an impact on her life, but she does not seem to mind it. “I don’t even make plans. If somebody calls me, I call it off. In case I am meeting a friend or going shopping, I try to come back as early as possible to come, cook and feed the dog. It is quite an effort. Some people don’t have time and I don’t blame them. People like me try to make time,” she shares. Apart from cooking food, Meghna also works with communities like Dogs of Madras to find a home for fostered rescues (for the past four years), takes them to vets, vaccinates them and more.

While the city is home to many dog lovers, Meghna is often up against the irrational fears of some in her community. “Once, they relocated dogs in our society and I filed a case. It became very serious with the dogcatcher asking me for `10,000 per dog to return them. I ended up spending Rs 3,000 on every dog and still couldn’t locate one of them. Relocation is dangerous since dogs are pack animals and isolated ones can be attacked or killed,” she rues. According to the Animal Birth Control Rules of 2001, relocation is not permissible by law. Meghna expresses her wish for people to change their mentality towards dogs and learn about how they feel and the abuse they face.

What can you do?
“The most important thing is to have sterilisation campaigns. It is important to reduce the population of dogs. There are enough of them; they won’t be extinct. We have to be socially responsible and try to reduce the number.” 

To donate (only in kind), contact her on 9003026536

Dedicated for decades
It was only in 2018 that Sathya (58) and R Krishnaswamy (68) established their NGO, Scooby’s Animal Care, to make official what they had been doing for three decades. The couple takes responsibility for 150-odd dogs in Ambattur, every day. Sathya, despite being a vegetarian, has learned to cook meat to give them the required nourishment. They also participate in rescues, medical assistance, adoptions, vaccinations, and sterilisations, often helped out by their daughters,  Arudhra and Akshadha.

During the lockdown, Arudhra, began to feed an additional 300 dogs around Ambit Park, Mogappair and Vavin. “We would feed them from 7 pm to 1 am daily after charity work. After the lockdown, we slowly withdrew. It is a blessing that my parents are still doing this, even when there are no weekdays or weekends when it comes to animal work,” she says.

But, in what appears to be an emerging pattern, Sathya shares her struggles with residents who disagree with her work. “They don’t understand that feeding or giving the dogs water is beneficial for them too. By feeding and vaccinating them, we are protecting humans as well.” Sathya also opines that the city only has a handful of people for the dogs in distress. 

What can you do?
“If every family takes care of 1-2 dogs or cats, then people like us won’t have to run around. They don’t have to let them in the house, just take care of the food and medication.” 

To donate: Bank name: State Bank of India
Beneficiary:  SCOOBYS ANIMAL CARE
Account Number: 37610162400
IFSC code: SBIN0016284



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