The sight of an abandoned pet is a moving one. You may find them lurking near street corners, often hungry, sometimes depressed and almost always waiting to be reclaimed. Show a smidge of affection — a biscuit or a pat — and they light up with joy.
Md Zabi Khan has loved dogs for as long as he can remember, and his NGO, A Place to Bark, works to rehabilitate deserted canines in Hyderabad.
Not just dogs, but hundreds of abused and abandoned pets have found new homes thanks to Zabi, who is all of 19 years.
It was an unfortunate incident that inspired the initiative. When he was in the class 8, Zabi was desperate for a pet. Coming across an abandoned puppy on the street and unable to find the owners, he brought him home and named him Casanova.
“He fell sick two days later,” remembers Zabi. “My father and I took him to a doctor, but Casanova passed away that night. The doctor had told my father that he had a severe bacterial infection — it was probably the reason he was abandoned. He was my first pet and I was heartbroken.”
Determined not to let any animal suffer like his Casanova, Zabi began to volunteer at local NGOs and animal shelters. Noticing a lack of organisations that worked to rehabilitate abused, abandoned pedigree dogs, he started his own NGO — A Place to Bark — in 2014. With his family’s support, he also started a small shelter close to his home.
But as he finished schooling and took up an engineering course, it became difficult for Zabi to manage his passion. Strapped for time, he came up with a remarkably smart solution. “I thought I would open a shelter inside my college,” he says. “I spoke to the authorities about my work, made presentations, and convinced them of my idea.”
Since then, KG Reddy College of Engineering & Technology has been in the news for welcoming a variety of animals and birds into the campus.
Not just dogs and cats, the shelter also hosts rabbits, turkeys and ducks. The faculty and students have also become involved in the shelter, spending their lunch hour with the animals and birds.
Zabi, who is now in the second year of engineering, splits his time between classes and the shelter. “I also conduct awareness sessions at schools and colleges and encourage people to take care of their pets and adopt rescued animals,” he says.
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A Place to Bark also organises adoption drives. “We recently organised a big adoption drive at Numaish, a popular event organised in the Nampally area. We managed to find people to adopt 28 desi pups in one day,” says Zabi, who also collaborated with a local designer to organise a fashion show centred on animal abuse.
Zabi himself now has eight desi dogs at home, all rescued and rehabilitated. “They are free animals. I let them to go around and do as they please,” he says, sharing stories of his pets’ particular idiosyncrasies.
Zabi wants to educate everyone to take care of their pets and not abandon them when the animals need them the most.
Pets are most often abandoned due to old age or diseases, and the number of such desertions is alarmingly high.
“People often buy exotic breeds to feed their egos and show off their status,” says Zabi. ‘But when the pets get sick, they leave them on the roads.” Close to 50 volunteers — from his college and all around Hyderabad — have steadily joined him on the mission of coming to the aid of such animals.
To ensure that the abandoned pets find better second homes is Zabi’s priority. All those who apply for adoption are thoroughly screened and counselled. Till they find new homes, the animals stay in the shelter cared for by Zabi and other volunteers. The shelter is currently on the lookout for more volunteers as well as those interested in sponsoring meals or veterinary services for the animals.
Since he picked his first pet off the road, Zabi has come a long way. College may keep him busy now, but once he completes his degree this budding activist hopes to open a bigger animal shelter and work to curb the tendency to have illegal pet breeds.
To know more about the animal shelter and get in touch with Zabi, click here.