The word ‘lockdown’ often fuels thoughts of claustrophobia, boredom and most importantly, social disconnection.
But with a functional internet and heaps of groceries, many of us reading this story from the comfort of our homes, are just fine. The lockdown has no doubt caused inconvenience and even financial loss for many of us, yet, it has hardly been a cause of death, rather, in the current circumstances, it is a measure to avert that.
However, we cannot seem to say the same for all the helpless creatures inhabiting the streets—stray animals who have been pushed to the verge of starvation owing to the nationwide shutdown.
So, when the government announced a ‘Janta Curfew’ on 22 March to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, a few of us had one more thing to worry about and began to organise supplies and citizen groups to feed the strays.
Once at 7 AM and then after 9 PM, following the brief relaxation of the government’s call for self-isolation, these individuals hit the deserted streets to feed free-roaming dogs, cats and other animals.
“Due to the lockdown most shops, especially meat and fish shops that serve as a primary source of food for strays, remained closed. We managed to help some strays by feeding them whatever we could gather at the time. But, then the announcement to extend the lockdown was made and that pushed us to start planning for a long-term routine to feed them. Sadly, the way people are, the needs of animals, especially strays, always come last,” says Karishma Chatterjee, a homemaker and resident of Navi Mumbai who has been feeding 10-15 dogs and cats every day in her locality.
Fortunately, she is not alone in this. 21-year-old Sagun Bhatjiwale, a final year veterinary student from Mumbai and secretary of Nature’s Ally Foundation, an NGO dedicated to the welfare of birds, animals and trees, has also been going out of his way to help the strays.
“The lockdown has resulted in decreased animal feeders all around the city. The shutting down of restaurants, eateries and offices has completely stopped leftovers being discarded in garbage bins, which was a major source of food for strays. As a result, they are faced with extreme starvation and dehydration. I could not bear to see the stray animals I love so much, suffer and die and had to help them, no matter what,” he tells TBI.
With the help of a few friends and colleagues, Sagun spread the word and encouraged people to do their bit. Since the lockdown he has been going around in a car from Jogeshwari to Dahisar, feeding an average of 100 to 120 stray dogs and cats every single day.
Bengaluru’s Paul Goswami, an IT professional and an animal rescuer is yet another good samaritan. He has been feeding close to 120 animals daily in the Electronic City area and hopes to expand to the rest of the city.
In Golaghat, Assam, Abhishekh Boney Singha’s NGO, All & Sundry, has launched a statewide campaign named ‘All we need is Love’ to encourage citizens to help out strays.
“I request everyone to leave organic waste like vegetable or fruit peels, biscuits, breads, leftovers (unwrapped), grains, banana leaves, etc., along with a bowl of water in front of their homes, so that stray animals can eat them, without you having to step outside the house,” he appeals.
More than 100 individuals, from civil service officers, professors to students and kids have participated in the campaign, and feed over 100 stray dogs and cats and around 40 cows, daily.
Started by a Gurugram family, Pawzz is a social enterprise that rescues and rehabilitates strays, in addition to providing them with medical assistance.
So, when the Janata curfew was announced on March 22, the Pawzz team began a new mission—the Hunger Project—which has gathered a number of volunteers to care for the innocent stray animals in these distressing times. From local police officials, community gatekeepers to common citizens have come forward to lend a helping hand.
Not only is this family-run organization feeding animals living on the streets but is also spreading awareness to dispel misinformation about COVID-19 being spread through dogs. Owing to these rumours, many dogs have been abandoned, beaten up and even been poisoned in the last few weeks, so their efforts seek to eliminate such gruesome incidents.
Despite the many obstacles caused by short supplies and slow services of e-commerce platforms, the Pawzz team is continuously using all possible avenues including social media to procure supplies and carry on the feeding operations.
“The animals have literally been ecstatic since the time we started to feed them. We have seen a huge number of dogs relocated to other parts due to the scarcity of food and the entry of other dogs in their territory. Irrespective of this, we could see with our own eyes that the animals who stayed behind were at the verge of starvation. We believe we have been able to make a difference as we have been able to unite people to come together and get feeding permits,” says co-founder Vipin Kumar to a publication.
A selfless gesture met with sharp criticism
While the selfless efforts of these citizens have been noteworthy, it has not been devoid of resistance.
Many of them have faced resistance and been accused of flouting government guidelines and even causing harm to public property by feeding and disrupting nature’s way by destroying the primal hunting instincts of animals.
Countering such criticism Paul says, “People who are criticising our work are those who feel animals don’t have any feelings and so can’t experience pain or hunger. The truth, however, is that pain and hunger are universal, and when these two aspects are taken care of by rescuers and feeders, not only are these undomesticated animals able to survive in urban structures but are also more friendly to strangers.”
Elaborating on the challenges, Shivanya Pandey, a 23-year-old resident of Vishrantwadi, Pune, says, “The lack of credible information is the key issue or challenge in the way. I have been feeding at least 30 dogs every day, and people in the nearby societies of my area have even called the police in protest. Although the law is on our side, the lack of on-ground implementation causes challenges. The authorities responsible for upholding those laws need to be aware of them. Animal rights are as important as human rights.”
Shedding some more light into the source of bitterness and lack of empathy towards the strays, 58-year-old Jacob Thomas, says, “There have been several rumours around the coronavirus epidemic that are causing chaos and panic. One such rumour is that it spreads from domesticated and stray animals like dogs and cats. And, that is why many people have been apprehensive about public feeding of strays. But, I would urge people to get past this barrage of misinformation and read the facts for themselves before believing anything. Even WHO has confirmed that these are just lies, and so we should do everything in our power to help these creatures.”
An assistant manager in an insurance company, a voluntary traffic warden and a proud feeder, Jacob has been bending over backwards to help the strays in several parts of Bengaluru.
“If you can’t help them, then at least don’t hurt. It’s plain kindness, that’s all,” adds Paul.
Is feeding animals during a lockdown allowed?
To all those who think that feeding strays during the lockdown might amount to the flouting government guidelines, here’s an essential piece of information.
To stop the stray animals from becoming unforeseen casualties of coronavirus pandemic, the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) on 23 March, issued an advisory letter for all chief secretaries of states and union territories, to ensure that animals and birds do not suffer during the lockdown period.
Advisory from the Animal Welfare Board of India. pic.twitter.com/N7oYNWqVc9
— Maneka Sanjay Gandhi (@Manekagandhibjp) March 23, 2020
Emphasising on the crucial work done by the feeders, Dr OP Chaudhary, Director of the AWBI states in the letter, “This is a valuable service consistently provided by compassionate individuals and the absence of it may cause a large number of animals and birds to suffer and die, and carcasses of the dead animals and birds may further spread different diseases amongst community which will be difficult to control.”
“Feed and fodder of large animals and food for companion animals and strays is an essential service and may be kept operational during [the] lockdown,” the letter adds, while encouraging states and UTs to spread awareness about the ‘essential service’ and allot a specific time for volunteers and organisations to provide food and water to strays.
The Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries Ministry has also issued similar directives declaring that all state-run veterinary and animal medical treatment institutions will remain functional despite the lockdown.
— Maneka Sanjay Gandhi (@Manekagandhibjp) March 23, 2020
“It is requested that veterinary hospitals and dispensaries in the state, including private veterinary clinics, veterinary pathologies, animal shelters etc. function in the normal course and the veterinary services be considered in the list of ‘Essential Services’,” the directive states.
Coming forward in support of animal rescuers and feeders, former Women and Child Minister Maneka Gandhi tweeted thus:
“Street dogs, cows, and birds can neither get nor give coronavirus to humans. However, in the event of a lockdown, if they are not fed, many will die, creating another kind of a problem.
I have requested all animal welfare workers to feed the animals during this period of a lockdown. I will be doing the same. Please allow them to do so. If there is any problem, please contact me on 08800067890. pic.twitter.com/P7yvoZCuYJ
— Maneka Sanjay Gandhi (@Manekagandhibjp) March 23, 2020
I have requested all animal welfare workers to feed the animals during this period of a lockdown. I will be doing the same. Please allow them to do so. If there is any problem, please contact me on 08800067890,” she added.
Help will come when your intentions are good, says Sagun who suggests that citizens do the bare minimum of feeding how much ever they can during this lockdown period.
“To see the stray dogs, many of them who are new mothers with their litter of pups, gobble up food in a matter of seconds out of sheer starvation was overwhelming. With a small bowl of water or food and even leftovers, you are saving a life. Nothing can be nobler than that,” he adds.
But, make sure you take all the needed safety precautions like wearing gloves, masks, shoes etc. while out for feeding.
For more information and assistance on the same, you can even join this WhatsApp group that is helping citizens become lifesavers.
Feature image source: @namanbhambri; Pawzz/Facebook
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)
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