by Sreetama Banerjee Bhattacharya, Co-Founder and Program Manager of Mothers Heart Sarsuna and Program Co-ordinator for Animal People Alliance
In my career of seventeen long years as an animal advocate I have come across many organisations, along with the one for whom I work since 2003.
During my interaction with these organisations and their expertise I always felt there was some missing link. It is about being more sensitive to the basic needs of your non-human patient, while treating them in emergencies. I may sound a bit gender biased being a woman myself but I have always felt women are more sensitive to deal with the patients in critical trauma. Technical expertise isn’t the only important thing to consider. You must also consider the physical and emotional bond a caretaker must form with their patient. Compassion helps to diminish the stress a patient experiences which in turn aids in recovery. Being compassionate is crucial and this is where I think women excel.
Now there are obvious questions that arise when one thinks of women performing tasks related to caring for animals such as animal handling, which demands a tremendous amount of physical strength. How would women deal with such hard jobs? Well in our so called semi modern-semi ancient society, do we really notice or measure how much physical strength is required for our Indian women in order to perform their daily household jobs? With my share of observation and my own job experience, my answer is “YES”! Women can definitely handle the animals (here am referring to the small and community animals specifically) and give them mental support and medical aid when they are in need. I am happy to finally help prove this point by working with Animal People Alliance and showing people that women, if given the opportunity and support, can do most of the same things that men can do.
When I was told by Paul, Co-Founder of Animal People Alliance, that he wants to launch an animal ambulance which will be mainly managed by the female paraveterinarians*, for me it was like a dream comes true. Not only does it provide more economic opportunities for women and provide animal shelters with much needed trained staff but it also helps promote a culture of compassion among the stray animals of Kolkata. We hope that over time, more people in the city will see this as a viable option for a career and choose to improve their lives by helping animals improve theirs.
*paraveternarians (or paravets) are essentially vets in training who can perform most basic animal care tasks but are not licensed to perform surgeries.
Many a times we have witnessed the animals on streets and lanes suffering haplessly, but could not offer any relief to them actually. There has been a constant thought on mind, to give them some help, but we were clueless about what to do. At that time only, we came to know, through my daughter, who works with Mangli Trust, that the owner of Trust, Govind, was actually looking for two women who can serve and treat the animals in distress, through a group called Animal People Alliance.
So both my Sister and I decided to join the training. We met Govind Sir and he helped us to have a talk with Paul and Belinda from Animal People Alliance. They agreed to bear all expenditure and informed us that we can go to Animal Aid Unlimited in Udaipur for three months, to get the training and learn how to perform basic care for the animals. This makes us very proud.
Both Paul and Govind, encouraged us a lot and we came to Udaipur. We joined Animal Aid and liked everything about it very much. We always stay ready to serve our duties with proper care. Today it was a holiday for us, so we went out for a lunch. We met many dogs on road, and we felt as they were Mouli, Gabbar, Chintu, Suraj, Deepak, Tanu, Tanuja, the dogs we met at Animal Aid. We realize that all dogs are the same and they all need our love and compassion. We are very thankful to Animal Aid Unlimited and Animal People Alliance. We feel we can help now.
Motivated by the inspirational animal welfare conference we recently attended in Mumbai, we have an exciting new goal for the year 2017. I will share all of that with you later in this post, but I’d first like to report on the successful fundraising volunteer trip we did in October. A small group of really fun people from the U.S. and the U.K. met up in Kolkata to visit a few of our partner projects working with animals. They toured Love N Care For Animals and Mother’s Heart, two shelters that do rescue work for abandoned animals. They also visited the Made By Survivors jewelry project and the Women’s Interlink Foundation Shelter Home. I met up with everyone in Sikkim, which is considered one of the more progressive states in India as far as animal welfare programs go. The animal shelter here that we planned to visit, was unfortunately closed, but we had a great time getting to know one another and exploring such a beautiful part of the country regardless. I’ve travelled all over India, and this was one of the more beautiful places I have been to. Back in Kolkata, we experienced Durga Puja, one of the most important religious festivals in Kolkata, people all over the streets and everything lit up for the carnival – just beautiful and crazy, everyone in our group left the city feeling excited and inspired.
We feel this blog post from one of our staff in Kolkata, is a great example of how badly a project like ours is needed. The problem with animal welfare in India is overwhelming and complex. In order to properly address the issue we need more trained animal caregivers, nurses and vets. People is the one resource India has in abundance but very few of them see working with animals as a noble, or desirable, career. Animal People Alliance is working to change that by offering training to women with limited income and employment opportunities. By training them and getting them placed at animal NGO’s and vet offices, we can solve two issues at the same time; Employment for vulnerable women and proper care for stary animals. It’s a win, win for all involved!
By Maura Hurley
I have lived in a middle class housing complex in a suburb of Kolkata for the past 19 years. I feel we have a unique, community-based system for looking after the dog friends who strayed into our complex several years ago, and who have been adopted by several of us in the housing complex so that they can safely call it “home.”
I‘d like to share the story of our “complex dogs,” as we call them, because it represents a microcosm of some of the issues that face not only the animals themselves, but those who are trying to help them. The dogs would not be with us today if the animal lovers in our complex did not step up and join forces. Over many years, each person has played a special role to ensure that the dogs can live their semi-street, semi-domesticated way of life. It seems it would be easy to care for street dogs, just give them love and bring them some food from time to time, as many people do when they see the dogs. But behind the scenes, it is a very different story and several factors, including dog fighting, injuries caused by humans and other health issues from being outside, are constantly working against us. In general, most people fear stray dogs and have been told from a young age that they are dirty and not to be touched or loved, they are rarely taught how to approach them to gain their loyalty and to live in harmony.
Caring for our four dogs now has become a full community effort. At 5 am I let the three dogs out and they head to B Building to get their breakfast. At 1:00, Ruku and her mother see to it that the dogs are all fed a good lunch of rice and meat. By around 6 or so they follow my son upstairs and they are up for the evening. At approximately 9:30 pm, Bittu heads to Papai’s house, where they are already cooking for their own two dogs anyhow – so they make extra for our four dogs and two dogs who live outside our complex. He collects the big bowl of dog stew to feed his own Moti and then comes to my house for home delivery for my three, and then goes out the complex gate to feed two more dogs that live near the bus stand and the bank. That’s daily coordination and it never skips a beat.
The complex dog family
Ludo and Johnnie are the mother and father dogs who currently live with us. Their daughter, Kuttush, is the only one from her litter that still remains as a semi-street dog, and roams with her parents. One of the young girls in the complex, Papai, and her sister Mithai got involved in helping the dogs long before I ever did. She wrote me:
“From Ludo’s litter, I only remember Ludo and her brother. Her brother had a bad infection on his back and a neighbour poured hot water to get rid of the puppy. We had called for a vet but it was too late – we could not save him. Johnnie was an outsider at first, but when he invaded Vidyasagar, he became a strong Alpha male and soon got rid of the then Alpha male dog in our complex, named BK. Since this, he has became a part of our dog family within the complex. Johnnie was strong and courageous while Ludo was pretty and dominating; and he always doted on Ludo and was a very caring father.”
As you can see, the dogs have long and very complex family trees and stories to go along with them.
Our complex dog-care network
Mother Ludo gave birth to multiple litters within a very short interval of time and residents in the complex got worked up because according to them, all dogs will bite. Papai remembers instances when the dogs were kicked by neighbours if they were loitering around the outdoor Puja Pandal during an annual religious festival. A caring person who was a member of the complex’s Ladies Club informed us that one of the latest agendas of these busy ladies was to have the dogs seized by the Municipality and taken to the pound – not a nice place. It was then that Papai and her sister, Mithai, took quick action and enlisted the help of another older neighbour, Sushmita. They visited each and every flat, discussed the complex dog issue with all residents and asked them to sign a petition that stated “if the dogs were vaccinated and sterilized, they would not object to their presence in the complex.” The whistle blower in the Ladies Club agreed to adopt one of the puppies from the latest litter and Sushmita-di and her sister adopted three and kept them in their home. Ludo and Kuttush were vaccinated for rabies and sterilized. Proof of this was submitted with all required signatures to the housing complex office with the assurance that the dogs would be able to stay here as a family of three, unharmed. Vaccinations have been taken care of every year since, with documentation submitted to the complex. Something had been accomplished through quite a bit of communication and hard work!
After the intervention by the community with the most infamous litter of dogs, it had been three-dog night here for many, many years and things were quite settled – despite some health problems and a car accident (a story for another blog!) – until about three years ago when another male dog was introduced into the mix.
Moti was from a litter of five dogs whose mother died on the street when they were a few weeks old. Papai and her sister began nursing and feeding them, when one of the pups died of distemper. They quickly called the vet and had the remaining puppies vaccinated for Distemper and Parvo. They were able to find home for three of the pups but then one of the male pups, Moti, had a bad accident and Papai decided to bring him home to our housing complex brought to nurse him. He was kept in a rescue cage but Papai already had two adult dogs of her own and a father were severe health problems, she could no longer keep the cage inside her house. She asked a young boy, Bittu, and his grandfather who live in a small bamboo shack within our complex and run an ironing business, if they would keep him there. Papai came daily to administer his medicines and nurse his wound while Bittu ensured that Moti was comfortable. In the meantime, Bittue and Moti became best friends and it would be difficult to part ways now that Moti was well again. Now, Moti was also one of the dog pack residing in our complex.
Fast forward to two months ago, the height of the rainy season and the mating season, all over the city dogs are fighting and marking territory. Our dogs who were usually quite happy roaming the complex together, were now at each other’s throats, quite literally, and we spent our mornings, afternoons and evenings contacting each other to see if we could let one out if the other was in to keep them separated – but this was impossible to sustain. In particular, Moti and Johnnie were playing games of territorialism again. Last year, Moti won a vicious fight (the vet arrived at 2 am!) over Johnie and pronounced himself the designated (and more visibly more virile) Alpha male. Old Johnnie, now 13+ years old was in serious danger when these fights began to occur again this year. I’d see him come walking back to my flat like a wounded soldier, along with Ludo, who was now attacking her own daughter Kuttush, who had now caught the attention of Alpha Moti. Everything had reached a stressful climax and I realized these sweet dogs that come scratch on my door each evening to quietly take rest and shelter quietly in our house are still W-I-L-D. Ugh.
It was evident that both Ludo and Johnnie were too old to go through any more surgeries, so neutering Johnnie at this point made little sense. Ludo has become too weak and fragile to be getting involved in such vicious fights with Kuttush (she had been run over on the hip by a car right in complex less than a year ago, just after finishing her fifth round of chemo for vaginal cancer.) I spoke to our highly dedicated vet, Dr. Roy, about the possibility of having Moti sterilized. I wanted to know if this would settle him down a bit, and thereby settle down all the dog relations once and for all. I read over the pros and cons of sterilization extensively and had come to the conclusion that it was the next necessary step. Dr. Roy informed me that over time he could guarantee a good outcome but he could not guarantee that the surgery would change the situation at hand overnight. Since Moti is still an outdoor dog, living in the park along with Bittu and his grandfather, it would be difficult to catch him and take him for surgery. The vet suggested that (since he no longer keeps a chamber due to an infestation that closed it down earlier in the year) we make a makeshift operating theatre right in my flat, “If you have a spare table and some Dettol, we can do the surgery right in the children’s library. . .” Gulp. Uh, ok.
Two days later we had lured Moti up to the flat and the doctor and his assistant arrived around 1:30 in the afternoon (surgery was scheduled for 10 am sharp and my son stayed home from school to help. We first gave all the vaccinations to the other three dogs since they were also being kept in the other room. Moti gave us a very difficult time and we were unable, after about 1.5 hours of trying, to pin him down to inject the anaesthesia. I was disappointed at the lack of creativity in harnessing the dog by the handler. He had not even brought a muzzle or biscuits and didn’t seem to know anything about gaining the animals trust. Needless to say, at the first possible opportunity the dog fled down the stairs after being traumatized by being wrapped around the grill of the door, which didn’t work. Outside, we could easily get the dog close to us but it was impossible to get the injection in without him tearing off the muzzle, as it was the wrong size. By now another neighbor had come on the scene and joined the dog-catching force but it was obvious we had to let it go because the dog was becoming aggressive and was clearly traumatized. We came back in and formed a new plan. I was happy to hear that the doctor was promising to be back by 9pm to do the surgery. I asked if giving a sedative would help make it easier to give the anaesthesia and he told us the dosage, etc. to administer before the vet returned for the second try. It is obvious that the goal of Animal People Alliance, to train more compassionate individuals as animal handlers and vet assistants is absolutely needed in this field. We were grabbing at straws and no one could offer good advice and technical help.
I went to bed at 11:30 pm thinking that the vet must have had other animals to tend to but at 1:00 in the morning my son whispered that the vet, the handler, neighbor Ruku and Bittu were all here and they were going to give one more sedative and go for it. “Let me know if you need me,” was all I could reply. By 2:00 am I went into the community library room we run from our home to find a dog atop a table, vet and assistant operating, and three able helpers there to get anything that was needed. They’d somehow managed to anaesthetize Moti and the operation was in full gear. Forty minutes later the dog was waking up and all the helpers got him back to his home with Bittu for the night. For the next week we carefully watched, fed and administered meds and watched Moti pop back into action.
Now fully recovered, Moti has certainly become less aggressive and less interested in Kuttush. In fact, the difference in all of the dogs’ temperaments has been very noticeable. They still put on quite a show, with their competitive growling and obvious territorial instinct but so far things have remained manageable and getting better each day. Moti is no longer going after Kuttush’s affections and Ludo and Kuttush can now stay in our house together, we’d been keeping Kuttush outside all night because Ludo needs to be watched due to her health conditions. The other bonus is that this will basically keep Moti from roaming out of the complex during mating seasons and will prevent further “unwanted” dog populations. I feel it has made a significant difference and I feel proud that our community could work together to make healthy decisions for the dogs. As citizens we need to find solutions by working together closely to protect and care for street animals in Kolkata, if we unite and take the help of professionals and other concerned individuals animal birth control and safe human-dog relationships is truly possible. We have to step up for the animals and make decisions for them, this is not easy if you are all alone, and many times people around you will not agree with your choices. It takes a compassionate community.
Maura Hurley works part-time for APA, helping with social media and community outreach, as well as getting involved with several dog and cat adventures that have opened her eyes to the world of street animals in Kolkata. Animal People Alliance (APA) has provided both financial and moral support for Ludo’s chemo treatments and Moti’s sterilization. Maura and her family run an independent project called Mustard Seeds Kolkata, which helps network those organizations and individuals working on the issues of art, education and the environment.
This week a group of four bright, young women from The Learning Tea in Darjeeling, India traveled to Animal Aid Unlimited in Udaipur for a week of orientation before starting the first official Animal People Alliance Animal Welfare Training later this summer! We’ve been working towards this moment for almost two years and are excited to finally get this phase of our project off the ground! During their week at AAU they got to know the staff, tour the facility and get hands on with many of the animals like calves and the handicapped dogs. The women exhibited an immense passion and love for the animals and far surpassed even our most lofty expectations! Some of their favorite moments were spent massaging and swimming with the handicapped dogs who absolutely LOVE the attention and affection they received from the women.
The group will now return to Darjeeling to finish getting their rabies vaccinations and prepare for the 2 month training that will begin this summer! They had so many amazing moments and experiences on this trip that we asked them to write about it and will share their stories with you in the follwing days so check back.
We want to extend a very special thank you to all our supporters who have helped us get to this point. You have been very patient while we worked out all the complicated details to get this project off the ground and we are so grateful to have you in our corner! We couldn’t have reached this milestone without your support!
Well, I can’t believe it’s been 3 months since the last blog. 2016 is flying by! Since the beginning of the year both myself and Animal People Alliance have been very busy. I have finally finished a musical studio project and a tour of Australia. Plus I’m getting ready for another U.S. tour. Animal People has been working on the ground in Kolkata through direct action and by supporting local animal NGO’s. Local staff are personally working with several populations of local street animals by:
As you know one of our missions is to train vulnerable women to become veterinary nurses and animal caregivers by sending them to our great friends at Animal Aid Unlimited, in Udaipur, one of the first animal hospitals and sanctuaries in India. Unfortunately this has been delayed while we search for the right candidates. But now I’m happy to say that it looks like we have found our first group! They are located in Darjeeling and are associated with a great NGO’ based out of Atlanta called The Learning Tea. We even have several veterinarians and animal NGOs in the Darjeeling area who are anxious to hire the women once they finish the training!
I’m also really excited to announce our fundraising for this coming September . The 2016 Animal People Alliance Fundraising and Cultural Immersion trip will take place in Kolkata and Sikkim, India from September 30th – October 10th. I’ve never been to Sikkim myself – so this will be a new experience for me. Sikkim actually has been very successful with their animal welfare programs and we are going to visit some of the organizations and see how they are dealing with the problems and issues surrounding street animals. Besides visiting NGO’s on this trip – we of course will be doing sightseeing. There are many things to see in Sikkim – monasteries, temples and of course the Himalayas. At the end of the trip we will be returning from Sikkim to Kolkata just in time for Durga Puja; the big festival celebrating the Hindu Goddess, Durga. The whole city is in celebration mode and it’s something to see. Kolkata, I like to say, is divine chaos at it’s finest. There is definitely no other city in the world like it.
Anyone who is interested in coming on this immersion trip can get the information on the Animal People Alliance website and Facebook page. You can also send an email to Paul at Paul@madebysurvivors.com.
If you are considering coming along for the trip, reserve your place now, there are only a few places left. I hope to see you there!
I can’t believe that we are now at the end of 2015. It’s gone by way too fast! This past year has been a busy one for me with touring, making my new album (scheduled for release next year) and of course working on Animal People Alliance. We have spent the past year laying the groundwork for 2016 which is going to be our year! Here’s a recap of what we’ve been up to recently and our plans for the coming months.
Progress is being made with our training, however it’s been slower then we would like but we are getting there. We have a group of women from Darjeeling who will go to Udaipur to undertake the training at Animal Aid Unlimited. We are working out the dates with the group now to make sure they can committ to the full two months and will make an announcement shortly with all the details. This is our core mission so we are very anxious to get this off the ground and can’t wait to share photos and videos with you!
Animal People Alliance has also been caring for local dogs in the communities where our staff live, to have them vaccinated, sterlized and treated for various wounds, mange and other health problems. One of the dogs (Ludo, pictured below) was diagnosed with cancer and we’ve been paying for her chemo treatment – and thankfully that prognosis looks promising so far.
Paul and Maura, our local staff in Kolkata, will be doing two workshops in December in local schools – teaching kids about animals and how to interact with
them and also the importance of reading an animal’s body language and how to respond to certain behaviors, in order to protect both the animal
and the people.
We have some exciting fundraising coming up for the holiday season too! Satya Jewelry, one of my favorite jewelry desiginers (in fact I wear alot of their designs), has graciously asked me to pick some of my favorite designs for them to sell in support of Animal People! Visit www.satyajewelry.com between December 2nd-9th and you will see the pieces I’ve selected and the instructions on how to buy. Satya will donate 30% of the proceeds from the sale of these designs to support our work! Further details will be shared on our Facebook page next week so make sure to check it out.
We are also doing a fundraising/service trip in 2016 for all of you out there who would like to come to India. The dates are September 30th – October 9th 2016 in Kolkata, West Bengal and Sikkim. In Kolkata, participants will volunteer at several of our local shelter partners and help with bathing, feeding, cleaning and other basic needs that we can help with. They will also learn all about the stray animal issue in India and walk the streets to see the problem first hand and speak to several people working with animals about what the solutions are and how they can help. I’ll be joining the group in Sikkim where we will visit a local animal NGO to see how Sikkim has successfully addressed the problems that most of India still faces (overpopulation, rabies etc) and why they’re a model for the rest of the country to follow. At the end of the trip we will be back in Kolkata for the first two days of the Durga Puja festival. We’ll end the trip with a dinner together at my favorite pizza restaurant ( yes, pizza!!!) in Kolkata. More information about the volunteer trip will be posted on our website and Facebook page in the next week so check back.
I always say everyone should have the life changing experience of visiting India once in their life. I’ve been many times and I always come back a little different and, I’d like to think, a little better human being. I hope to see you there!
It is so exciting to be a part of something that I have always wanted to do. For a long time I had a dream to create a donkey sanctuary and then in 2009 I visited Animal Aid Unlimited in Udaipur (AAU). Here, for the first time, I was completely blown away by the animal-healing work being done by the founders of this organization, Jim, Erika and Claire Abrams. This is the work of angels and I wanted to be doing that too. However, I didn’t know how that was really going to happen… until by chance in Bangkok, I met up with Paul Suit.
Paul works in Kolkata, India for Made By Survivors, an organization that creates employment opportunities to survivors of human rights abuses. Paul told me about a new project – Animal People Alliance – that he wanted to start up to continue to provide work to at-risk women, develop a more compassionate manner of dealing with street animals and eventually lead to establishing an animal hospital in Kolkata. Well, I stewed on that for about a month or two and thought to myself, this is a perfect way to combine my love for India and my love for animals…I want to help. I called Paul up and asked if I could help out and he said that would be great. So, that’s how my dream to help animals is finally beginning to manifest…and who knows, maybe there will be a donkey sanctuary along the way!
And now the work of Animal People Alliance has begun as we start the search for young women who want to take on the challenge of the training program at Animal Aid Unlimited and begin to contact organizations and veterinarians who will promise to employ the women who go through the training in the year 2016. We have a long way to go still, but we are hopeful that we are actually opening up new opportunities for both animals and women in Kolkata. There are a few of us who will be personally keeping you up to date through this blog so that you can follow what is going on: keeping you up to date with what Animal People Alliance is currently working on, sharing stories from people in Kolkata, and asking for your help by supporting/sharing our fundraising campaigns and events for next year.
Animal People Alliance (APA) is a project of The Emancipation Network / Made By Survivors, which has been working to improve the lives of slavery survivors through economic empowerment and education since 2005. We are honored to be partnering with singer/songwriter Belinda Carlisle on this initiative. Belinda has a long and passionate association with animal rights and welfare and has decided to dedicate the rest of her life to helping the animals of India and other parts of the world and create a culture of compassion that future generations can learn from.
This project will help to address two problems at once, head on, by training and employing human survivors to work with and help animal survivors.
Our plan is ambitious and far reaching in scope. We have so many wonderful ideas to implement that we know will make positive changes to the lives of thousands of animals and people around the world. But we can’t do it without your help and support. It’s not about giving money but about getting involved and staying involved.
We need you to SPEAK UP, SHARE our updates, LIKE our pictures, INTERACT with our page, BE VOCAL and help us get the word out about all the the great stuff people around the world are doing to help improve lives of Animal and People.
The mission of this new project is to provide high quality care to street animals in need while also providing high quality employment to survivors of human rights abuses and other vulnerable populations. To address the root causes of animal neglect and abuse, we will put a strong emphasis on changing the consciousness for future generations, and raising awareness about the value of human relationships with animals and the need to treat animals humanely.
Our objectives are to create a national network to train and employ vulnerable youth and women as veterinary technicians, dog handlers, animal caregivers, etc. offering ongoing training, oversight and resources to the trainees and to the shelters where they are ultimately employed. We will partner with existing animal shelters and help to improve their resources and infrastructure so they can accommodate more animals and have a bigger impact.
In addition we will work with local shelter homes for women and children, to help integrate animals into their community and allow them to help each other recover from their traumas and problems. We will conduct workshops to teach the women and children how to properly care for and raise animals and show them how animals can be an integral part of the community and family.
Our survivor-activists will offer workshops in schools and communities to raise awareness and to promote a culture of compassion for animals.
Please come with us on this journey and show the world that you are Animal People!