What One Person Can Do For Animals…
Ever had a fantasy of living on the beach, wandering from stray dog to stray dog, feeling one by one that you’ve been befriended by them? Wouldn’t be a bad life, eh? Ever dreamed of being loved by hundreds of animals who each trust you when everyone else has let them down?
Elaine Philpott, a highly experienced vet nurse from Coventry (UK) is living this dream in a distant fishing village called Mahabalipuram on the South Indian (Tamil Nadu) coast. Every morning she gets up and explores the shore on the Bay of Bengal while searching for dogs in trouble and ensuring that the dogs she gave a pat to and checked out yesterday or the day before are still doing ok.
Elaine took a big plunge toward “living the dream” when she sold her flat and quit her job in Scotland where she’d worked for 14 years in a private veterinary clinic. She decided to use whatever cash she’d saved to live a life serving animals in India.
For several years Elaine volunteered at Animal Aid, particularly professionalizing our surgery protocols. In 2007, she spread her wings to South India and set up a life—and a model community outreach program– on the coast.
Elaine has slowly developed a reputation for her gentle treatment of street dogs and community dogs—dogs who may not have people who consider themselves “owners” but who regularly feed particular dogs. Illiterate folk, the poor, and poor children bring animals to Elaine’s house for advice and free medicine. And the dogs on the beach and in the lanes—Elaine has counted about 200 regulars—each know her and most of them let her touch them.
It’s taken vigilance. Every day Elaine walks to the beach first thing in the morning with pocketfuls of kibble and biscuits so that she can give just enough to keep tails wagging. The remarkable effort has made it possible for her to personally catch dozens of dogs who are now enrolled in a sterilization and rabies inoculation program run by Blue Cross of India in Chennai, about an hour’s drive away. The program was launched this month: the Blue Cross van can carry up to 30 dogs, and while some of the villagers bring the dogs themselves, Elaine herself serves as the dog catcher. The dogs are then tagged and driven to the Chennai facility where they are evaluated and operated on, receive rabies inoculation and kept for a week post-op to ensure all’s well. Then Blue Cross of India delivers them back to the pick-up point in Mahabalipuram, and the next set of dogs collected.
Elaine has no plans of opening a shelter because she can’t afford to house animals and then leave regularly for visits to UK to see her mother and sister and because of Indian visa requirements. But moreover, she believes in empowering villagers to treat animals themselves and she’s seen lots of cases where she merely has to show people how to apply medicine (antibiotic cream, for example, on a wound) and the people continue treatments themselves. It’s non-stressful for the dog, energy efficient and best of all, turns ordinary villagers into street animal activists.
Elaine had made multiple trips to India before she saw the Animal Aid ambulance in action on a hot afternoon in 2005. She had never before been tied to an animal group in India, and once she “found” Animal Aid she became a permanent family member. “I think of my work here as an Animal Aid outpost, actually.”
We are happy she feels that way and want to encourage anyone traveling to South India to consider paying Elaine a visit and perhaps helping out on her daily “rounds.”
Elaine has developed and gathered a range of graphic illustrations of good dog guardianship practices, and tips for people trying to diagnose their dog’s problem. Where language is a problem Elaine has gotten a friend to create charming pen and ink drawings showing dogs tied on long chains in the shade, being taken for walks, dogs running from people throwing rocks, enjoying good food, being taken to the vet doctor, and illustrations which show what a dog looks like who’s not feeling well. (Beautifully done illustrations of dog’s barfing and pooping! And with comedic simplicity and clarity, showing what the poop looks like so that, if necessary, she can diagnose at a distance!)
Elaine is a fantastic example of what you can do if you can find the courage to take things steady and keep your heart on your target. Yes, of course she has nursing skills but we think she’d be doing a lot of good even if she only knew a few principles of first aid. In this village of just a few thousand people, which has not a single animal doctor or nurse, her work is a godsend. She’s not an extrovert; she’s not wealthy; but she IS determined and she bravely meets the challenge of facing animal problems on her own. She provides medical treatment every day to 5-to-10 dogs—some brought to her and many dogs she just sees on her walks and who let her treat them because she has invested hours in befriending them.
This month marks the initiation of a new program of sterilizing these beach dogs. 34 dogs were sterilized in November with the promise of more to come. She is paying Blue Cross of India on a per-dog basis (Rs 1000—about USD $22 per dog—their fees) using mainly her own money.
Thank you, Elaine Philpott. We are proud to count you as an Animal Aid icon of compassion!