Helping Indian community dogs stay happy
“But why do you return them to the street?”
We are asked this question from time to time by people who might never have been to India and can’t imagine that being returned to the neighborhood she came from is the best possible option for a dog in India.
We hope the information below helps explain this multi-layered issue and helps you feel as great about it as we do.
To start with…
Picture the fact that in India, millions of animals live on the streets in cities and in villages, wherever there are human populations that support them with food.
For thousands of years, dogs and humans have been living together in harmony, and so too, they do in India. Archeologists have shown us that dogs and humans evolved together, wolf-like species branching out and intertwining their lives with people, gradually becoming the dogs we know and love today.
In Udaipur, many dogs who don’t live inside houses, identify “home” as whole neighborhoods comprising multiple streets and in some cases have a range of several kilometers.
Many of the dogs have wonderful freedom: a whole gang of doggie friends and often a friendly family or two who feed them leftovers and who often prepare extra chappatis (bread) just for them.
Interestingly, these same families might never reach out to touch or pet the dogs. Some people fear non-specific “Disease” – a fear they may have learned from their elders. Some people fear being bitten by a dog, but yet still love to feed them and see them sleeping peacefully or playing with other dogs.
There are thousands of street dogs in Udaipur, and most of the adults are getting along well. Animal Aid is here to come to their rescue if our furry friends have been hit by a car, got a dog bite wound, a fracture, or are sick.
To understand the situation here, we need to think of it as more like a rescue center for injured wild animals than lost pet animals.
The dogs have completely adapted to living on the street. This is their preferred environment. A street dog confined in a house and denied contact with other dogs often becomes depressed.
Most of us know how smart dogs are, and their intelligence lights up their faces when they have the stimulation they get as free-roamers.
Why not adoption?
In Udaipur, those who keep dogs usually chain them or isolate them alone on rooftops.
For years we actively tried to encourage street dog adoption, but when we returned to the houses for routine checks, felt that the dogs would have been better off had they never come inside.
Today we think that our energies are better spent in encouraging people to express love and compassion to the dogs as they are, where they are.
In travelling throughout India we’ve found, sadly, that there are almost no medical facilities for any animals other than milk-producing, money-earning cows.
Injured and ill animals are plenty, but in most places there is no helpline to call, no ambulance, and no shelter to take care of community or street animals when they have a problem.
And in the areas where there is no rescue center (meaning, the vast millions of villages and cities that have no rescue centers) the injured animals go largely un-noticed.
People are immune to suffering. Perhaps because they feel they can’t help (don’t have the money, the time, the expertise, the interest) they stop seeing the suffering. It’s not so much “de-sensitization” as it is undeveloped sensitization.
In Udaipur, we believed from the beginning that this is something we could change. We would work to ensure that no injured street animal ever went unnoticed again. Our mission was to turn apathy into empathy. Street animal rescue was the perfect way to start. We went into hundreds of classrooms, passed out thousands of leaflets giving one simple message: Call Animal Aid when you see an injured or ill street animal.
The calls started to slowly trickle in. First one a week, then two. That was 12 years ago, and now Udaipur is India’s most active city for street animal rescue, with a whopping 4,000 calls to Animal Aid reporting animals in need every year.
Every time we make a rescue we are widening the circle of compassion. Around 250 people witness our street animal rescues every single day. That’s what we call compassion in action.
We have a limited number of animals that we can keep in permanent sanctuary, and we reserve these spaces for animals who cannot survive on the street: the blind, handicapped, senile, or those who need long-term medication. And sometimes we welcome to the sanctuary animals who are just too old to take care of themselves anymore. We have 150 dogs, cows and donkeys living in Animal Aid’s permanent sanctuary.
Our greatest challenge and pleasure is to know that when people call us to the rescue, we are always able to say “yes, help is on the way.”
Rescue Helps People Grow: From the moment we receive the first call reporting an animal in need, the caller becomes an important outreach target. Giving updates on the animal’s condition, invitations to the shelter, thanks for being a friend to animals, the emergency caller is welcomed into the Animal Aid family.
By the time the animal is healed and healthy, the caller is actively involved in the further protection of that animal. Many of the dogs we rescue have come to us before, which is the best situation we could ever hope for. It means that every time the dog has been injured, a caring person has taken action to make sure they get help. The great thing about our emergency help line callers is that they keep calling. Any time they see an animal who needs help, they call. And we are there. The animal is saved and the community is made a little more aware. Every day, a little change takes place. And it keeps changing. Udaipur is not like it was 15 years ago, and it’s not like those millions of villages and towns who have no one to help the neighbourhood dogs, calves, cows, bulls and donkeys.
Every day in Udaipur we see families happy to see “that old street dog” returned. And with every return to the street, we’re able to open the hospital gates to say “welcome” to the next ill or injured angel. And with every caller who hears the response “Yes! Help is On the Way” we change know a special someone has just grown proud of his or her animal protection. He or she will be even more vigilant, will share the story of the rescue with family and friends.