A guardian angel for street animals, Fiza had also adopted the canine heroes of 26/11—Max, Sultan, Tiger & Caesar—after their retirement from police service.
Fiza Shah still remembers the pain she felt 21 years ago, when she lost Snowy, the first dog she had ever rescued. Last year, Shah again had to say goodbye to Mastu, another stray she had rescued. She too died in Shah’s arms and losing her was just as unbearable.
“Every time I rescue an animal, I prepare myself to lose them one day but no amount of mental preparation, logic or strength can help enough. No mother can ever be ready to part ways with her child,” Shah tells The Better India.
Between losing Snowy and Mastu, Fiza has rescued over 300 animals including dogs, goats, rabbits, horses, cows, bullocks, geese, hens and cats.
The 54-year-old rehabilitates old, injured, stray, abandoned and ill animals to her 6-acre farm in the Virar region of Mumbai.
Shah’s Loving Home For The Abandoned
At the farm, Shah employs 15 people who look after the welfare of the animals and nurture them 24/7.
What makes this farm different from any other rescue home is that it is divided into sections so that animals can coexist peacefully. In fact, she also built a pond for the ducks and geese.
Shah only takes in those animals who cannot look after themselves, “I strongly believe that stray dogs should not be rescued and kept inside the home. All we can do is feed them. Only when the animal is sick or weak do I bring it to the shelter home.”
All the expenses like food, medical treatment, maintenance, salaries of the employees are borne by Fiza, who voluntarily retired from her family business five years ago.
“I started this organisation out of love and care and that’s why I never compromise on the needs of these animals even if it means spending Rs 2,000 on each animal for a regular medical checkup every week. The monthly expenditure on the farm comes around Rs 4 lakh,” she adds.
From Being Indifferent to Pouring Unconditional Love
Fiza does not shy away from confessing that she was never a fan of animals.
It was Snowy’s death that brought out her compassion and empathy for animals who have no one to look after them. To cope with her loss, Fiza would often spend her evenings with stray dogs near her house in Worli.
That’s when she closely observed the street dogs and their wounds. She could even sense if the dog was sad.
“I took them to a veterinarian and that’s when I came to know one dog was blind, one had a grave injury on his leg and one was sad because he was abandoned by his owners. For days, I felt helpless about not being able to do much for these dogs. Of course, I had taken advice from the Vet to feed them regularly but I wanted to do something more,” says Fiza.
She then made up her mind to start the shelter when a dog died even after giving him the required medical attention, “My efforts were going in vain as dogs were falling ill. Giving them home was the only way to provide proper care.”
While her aim was to only rescue dogs, a call from a friend about a tumour-affected bull changed everything.
Upon examination, the vet uttered the words that Shah was afraid of. The poor animal only had a few months to live. Fiza decided then and there to keep the bull, and appointed a person to look after him. She named him Khali, and he breathed his last a few months later.
Khali, the bull with tumour
As the rescue calls kept increasing, Shah purchased a truck to transport the animals to the vet.
For a brief period in the early 2000s, Fiza also worked against animal cruelty. Bulls and cows who were used as beasts of burden were kept in terrible conditions in an area of Mumbai.
She not only took the responsibility to feed them but also educated their owners about basic hygiene to be maintained in sheds.
Incidentally, most of the cows Shah has rescued have been those that roam on streets and feed on waste including plastic, “I felt so sad for such cows that I specially constructed a shed with a capacity to house 100 cows.”
Shah also knew that Police dogs are sent to kennels once they retire. Thus, in 2012, she wrote an application offering to adopt the dog squad that helped the Mumbai police detect bombs during 26/11 attacks.
“When dogs affiliated with the Police retire they are usually kept in kennels. While they are giving proper medical care there, there is a certain restriction level. Besides, the 26/11 dogs, I have rescued 30 retired police dogs over the years,” informs Fiza.
With time, other animals also eventually made their way to Fiza’s Farm.
When asked if animal adoption is something that everyone should think about, Fiza says:
“Adoption is not everyone’s cup of tea. Most people today adopt an animal as a social status to show off. Some NGOs mint money in the name of rescue work. One important thing to keep in mind while adopting is that the puppy will one day turn very old or may get injured severely. In such times, most people give up on them. This is the cruellest thing one can do. So adopt purely out of love and compassion.”