By Shambhavi Saxena:
Outdoing its predecessor, 2015 has been named the hottest year yet, as polar ice caps continue to melt and your ornamental plants are giving up the ghost in April because of that crazy little thing called climate change (which is a whole other discussion). With the mercury rising, several populations are under threat of their life, but it’s the non-human populations, with no schemes to their name and no hope of any, that are hit the hardest. Oh how I wish hot weather problems were the only concern to the multitude of these nameless and voiceless! Overpopulation, human cruelty, untreated medical problems, thirst and starvation constitute the daily struggle of stray animal populations in India, especially in big metropolitans. Legal reform and introduction of policies to address the issue, which several organizations like People for Animals are pushing, are long drawn and often unrewarded. At this point, personal efforts go a long way, and we hope this 8-point guide empowers you to respond to animal distress in a timely and effective manner, for both immediate and long-term situations.
An animal in pain, especially one that you haven’t built a relationship with, is likely to be aggressive and requires handling by trained professionals. Jaagruti has compiled emergency numbers for injured birds, bovines, street dogs, cats etc. for New Delhi/NCR, as well as for Mumbai. Immediately call any of these numbers to request professional help and/or an animal ambulance. Don’t attempt to physically move or even approach an injured animal, but remaining as a comforting and reassuring presence to it is a good idea. Please make sure someone is present to ensure the animal is received by the ambulance, even if you cannot stay.
Animal injuries can be the result of simple accidents, but more often than not, they are caused by human cruelty – including beatings, running over with vehicles, poisoning, tying fireworks to their bodies and even sexual assault. It is important to respond in time to these incidents. If you see it, stop it. Legally speaking, The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (a Central Act) exists to ensure working animals, transported livestock and even pets are not treated cruelly, but knowledge about the law is sparse, and reports are usually not taken seriously. If you actually find a police officer willing, the fines under this law are ridiculous pittances which don’t discourage such acts of violence. Personal intervention at the time of abuse is key. Taking recordings and photographs also help, and you should immediately take them to organizations like the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), People For Animals (PFA) or Friendicoes.
Summertime can be great for those of us who can afford air conditioning and mojitos. It would be great if you could make time to fashion clean water feeders out of household items, coconut shells, earthenware pots and anything else we can get our hands on to put out for the birds that visit our balconies. Mumbai-based NGO worker Sanjana Govindan Jayadev recommends concrete bowls to prevent theft and spilling. Providing shade by covering areas around your neighbourhood with tarpaulins or cardboard is also a huge help to strays, and reduces the dangers that come with sleeping under cars or on tires. Food and water requirements continue well into winter, but collecting old blankets and sweaters for cold winter nights can begin early. If you have room in your garage or stairwell, which allows the animal movement, and are willing to allow them to sleep there, there’s no better protection against the cold.
NGOs working to rehabilitate animals are constantly in need of funds, in order to provide medical care to animals that come to them, buy provisions to feed many mouths, ensure animals have coats in winter, as well to maintain the physical space of shelters and pay employees. Consider identifying one such organization in your area, and making a monthly donation. You can help them keep doing the good work they do, and contribute to fewer animals on the street in the long run. You can also do monthly collection drives in your area for non-perishable and easily transported food stuffs (biscuits and rice), cleaning supplies and always-in-demand newspapers for shelters. This may even give you a chance to find more people in your neighbourhood, school or workplace willing to help.
You are absolutely within your rights when you feed stray dogs in your area, and it is in fact a duty cast upon us by the Constitution of India. A Delhi High Court ruling of 2009, and then 2010, suggested persons feeding strays be protected by the police, because of frequent incidents of violence directed at them from other members of society.
Do not remove them. New-born puppies are best left to the care of their mother and other members of the pack. You can help by providing regular food for the mother – during and after pregnancy, so she can keep her strength up and deliver healthy pups. If for some reason the litter is abandoned, call this in so professionals can relocate them to a safer environment. Meanwhile, you can feed the pups milk through wads of cotton or even small bottles. If they are any younger than 60, they can’t digest anything but their mother’s milk ‐ so consult a vet about using a baby formula for them. It’s a good idea to develop a relationship with both mother and pups, and have the whole lot sterilized as and when recommended by a trained vet. Getting them vaccinated is a must but is also expensive, so consider collecting money from friends, neighbours, after explaining why measures like the ABC (Animal Birth Control) program are important for dogs and humans coexisting.
Get over prejudices against Indian breeds. Adopting, rather than buying your pets has a twofold outcome: first, it keeps stray dogs and cats off the street, second it challenges the breeding industry. Adopting very young puppies from animal shelters has its merits – since you’re beginning your relationship from the earliest phase of its life; but this shouldn’t stop you from adopting ‘twilight dogs’, as Friendicoes referred to older dogs in one of their fundraising campaigns. Remember each dog has a distinct personality and its own needs to which you must be sensitive from the very start!
The dog and cat breeding industry exploits the bodies of females over a certain age, treats them as commodities, kills ‘defective’ babies, and generally profits from their misery and discomfort. While you’re at it, don’t buy caged birds when you can have the pleasure of a visiting avian splashing in a bird bath outside your window!