Ipsita Sarkar writes about Indigree Angels Trust, a non-profit in New Delhi that works with the mission of rescuing and rehabilitating street dogs.
It was Christmas season.
The clock struck nine on a cold, foggy morning in a South Delhi colony near the Safdarjung Enclave. Five-year-old Kaalu waited for Santa Claus to arrive with edible goodies. He was joined by his friends, Ricky and Cheenu. If they were lucky, they would even get jackets to wear or a warm brown rug to beat the cold. Daisy, on the other hand, was hoping Santa would miraculously heal her injured foot that had been run over by a recklessly speeding car.
Waiting for Santa was a regular affair for the group; but the Santa who met them daily was not who you’d expect. He didn’t come dressed in red clothes; neither did he have a big bag or a white beard. In fact, their Santa was a woman! And she came in an Omni van accompanied by a small army of miracle workers.
And the lucky kids here are some of Delhi’s neighbourhood stray dogs.
They’re cared for by the feisty and energetic Jasjit Purewal, founder of the Indigree Angels Trust, a national non-profit based in New Delhi that works with the mission of rescuing, rehabilitating, and healing abandoned and abused Indian and pedigree dogs. There are about six or seven dogs in her front and back yards, and the space doubles up as medical boarding for desi canines.
Her front yard houses kennels for rescued dogs. Three are permanent residents and the others are on the lookout for foster homes. The immediate area outside the house also serves as a rest lodge for doggies on the move. Blankets, boris, food and bowls filled with water have been laid out for visiting canines who wish to eat or relax.
“Inside the house there are about 20 dogs. This place is like a mini-shelter,” says Jasjit.
Her daily schedule is packed. She’s up at 6.30 a.m. to walk the dogs, then returns to supervise cooking for them. Food is prepared in large amounts to feed approximately 300 dogs per day and 10,000 per month. She embarks on her first feeding round to nearby colonies by 8:00 am. Between 10 and 5, she accompanies her team to a larger feeding ground and deals with canine medical emergencies. Sometimes Jasjit and her para-vet friend, Anusheh (Senior Para Vet at Indigree), take the dogs to an animal hospital.
Jasjit recalls, “This Diwali, we were informed about a lead poisoning case in a dog near RK Puram. We gave her different kinds of drips, anti-biotics, injections and we were there till quarter to one in the wee hours of morning.”
It’s hard to list down the noble deeds that Jasjit and her Indigree Team carry out for the welfare of stray dog on a daily basis.
“I believe I was a dog in my past life. I have always loved all animals. When I was quite young, I used to cry on seeing injured street dogs or cows, and tell my father. I would bandage them and feel the need to treat them,” she says.
It’s been eight years since Indigree started. The NGO started out by taking small yet consistent steps to help stray dogs in the colony. Jasjit and Anusheh began to pick up dogs, take injured ones to a vet, get them vaccinated, sterilise, feed, de-worm, and look after them.
Over the years they were able to build a small team of like-minded people, driven by a common purpose. “We have been able to get an ambulance, train a para-vet who helps in catching and bandaging, etc. Some people helped us in fostering the dogs. Our immediate support system isn’t very large, but largely Delhi is very pro-animal. There are these networks that help out when a dog gets lost or needs an adoption. That kind of networking did help us in our endeavour.”
Mission Treat On The Street
Indigree’s Treat On The Street programme is one of its most unique initiatives under which 700 street dogs are treated every month.
One of the main reasons behind beginning the initiative was to avoid moving sick dogs to shelters, unless absolutely necessary. Animal shelters, they believe, are inadequate and unhygienic, making sick dogs more prone to infection. Treat On The Street involved treating sick animals on the spot with the help of their mobile clinic.
Dogs are vaccinated against fatal diseases like rabies, Parvo and distemper, on the street itself. They are also bandaged and treated for skin diseases, gastroenteritis, mange, eye infections, tumours and maggots. 90% of the dogs Indigree looks after receive successful in-situ treatment.
Their medical equipment – bandages, allopathic and homeopathic medicines, syringes, skin washes, lotions – are of the best possible quality.
Jasjit says, “We try and activate community support wherever possible. While there is a lot of cruelty towards animals in our country, there are also good people around. So many people who have seen us work come and help out.”
Indigree also conducted a two-day para-vet training workshop for 15 people to teach them basic medical care for street dogs.
Jasjit’s noble work hasn’t been limited to the colonies of South Delhi. She has previously served as the Executive Board Member of the Animal Welfare Board of India from 2011-15. During this time, she set up Srinagar’s first ever sterilisation unit for stray canines.
The experience, Jasjit says, helps her conduct sterilisations at Indigree, “That exposure helped me understand the best technology we could use and what things we needed to look out for. It also made me more aware about animal welfare laws and policies.”
Today, Indigree’s facts and figures are impressive. Over the last two years, 600 dogs have been sterilised and 500 street dogs have been vaccinated against Rabies and Distemper. Every month, 500 dogs are treated on the spot, while 200 dogs are provided with long term treatment.
Most dogs requiring long term care are put in private boarding until forever-homes are identified.
Come rain or shine, the Indigree team works 10-14 hours every day, reaching out to stray dogs, feeding, sterilising and treating them. The team comprises Anusheh Hussain, head para vet; Pooja, a young, slum-dwelling single mom also trained as a para-vet and Prem and Nandoo, on the dog management and handling team.
Jasjit’s house or the Indigree ‘office’ isn’t a sprawling mansion, but a modest duplex. From here she works with a small, dedicated team. Infrastructural challenges aside, when Jasjit started on her Indigree journey, she faced a lot of opposition from her neighbours.
She recalls, “Some residents would create a ruckus, they would want our parking space, break our car window panes and beat up the dogs. They would bring the police. Crowds would come saying, ‘ye kaat te hain’ (they bite), and all this nonsense. It was a terrible eight or nine months. Luckily, at that time, I was working with the Animal Welfare Board of India. Hence, the cops were very helpful and the SHO was very sympathetic. Overall, there was a lot of hostility, but we just kept doing our work.”
Eventually people began growing fond of the dogs and even started to donate money, clothes or food. Some even adopted Indigree dogs.
While the Indigree Angels Trust has a promising success rate, Jasjit believes it is important that the organisation inspires the future generation.
“Children are more receptive to animals, far more spontaneous than adults are. In the past, when we went to work in some of the slums, we didn’t have a van or a para-vet. Kids would come forward to help. They would hold the dog while it got bandaged or hold a drip bottle. The kids were very keen and hence we were able to sensitize them too on being kind to animals.”
Over the last seven or eight years, Indigree has rescued nearly 300 dogs. 90% of these are Indian street dogs, mostly pups, and the remaining abandoned pedigrees.
Indigree offers one year of free vaccinations to adopting families, thus ensuring smooth transitions and successful pet parenting. They make regular home visits to check if the dog and family make a happy team. They also remain on call for the family for emergency health issues and provide inputs on the dog’s diet, exercise and training.
Indigree is mostly self-financed, and doesn’t receive any large funding from private or government sectors. Their running costs amount to around Rs. 2 lakh every month. However, the increasing costs and expenditure have been taking a toll on them. To boost their income, Indigree recently started crowdfunding that partially met their financial requirements.
Indigree has been working towards raising awareness about Indian dogs and the rampant neglect and abuse they face daily. While not a lot of people are aware of their efforts, or recognise their workers by face, when an Indigree member walks through Green Park, RK Puram or a Safdarjung Enclave colony, they are instantly surrounded by the resident street dogs clamouring for attention, like fans surrounding their favourite super star.
Jasjit grins as she says, “People enquire, ‘what is happening?’ The dogs recognise our faces, car, walk, voice, not just here, but all the way from Kamal Cinema to RK Puram! Dogs are energy sensitive, they can detect auras, sniff out dog smells. They feel a compassionate, affectionate and non-threatening person.”
As I leave Jasjit’s house, a light brown stray leaves her rug and walks sluggishly towards me. She gently sniffs at my pockets, searching for food or perhaps checking if I mean harm to the house she calls home.
Jasjit notices and narrates the heart wrenching story of her self-appointed, furry security guard. “That’s Bibi. She is very old and had a really bad time on the streets. When we found her she had a huge number of maggots, couldn’t get up, was covered in blood, pus and pee and was barely conscious. With time, we were able to heal her wounds. Today Bibi has got her own little blanket and bori, she’s healthy and loves to eat. She was safe during Diwali; she will be safe during winter. It really warms my heart that I am able to do that for her. I can’t imagine the kind of trauma that she has been through. But maybe I have been able to give her the feeling that not all humans are bad. And she deserves to be loved and cherished.”
Bibi continues to sniff me and I stroke her head for a while. Content, she goes back to her corner to complete her sleep quota.