It is time to be a ‘streetheart’

ByHindustan Times
Oct 11, 2022 03:44 PM IST

The article has been authored by Ambica Shukla, trustee, People for Animals.

Remember the case of the Salem witches where a few women are falsely branded and burnt at the stake? The play, The Crucible by Arthur Miller is based on this incident as is the term witch hunt. What it demonstrates is the ability to whip up public frenzy and mass hysteria to such a pitch as to demonise and destroy a group of perfectly innocent victims. Since August of this year, we have been witnessing an orchestrated hate campaign against a most vulnerable and least deserving target— our trusty, loyal, uncomplaining Indian street dogs also affectionately called Indies.

Named ‘Be A Streetheart’, the campaign aimed to show how responsible citizenship takes care of the safety needs of both dogs and the communities they are a part of.
Named ‘Be A Streetheart’, the campaign aimed to show how responsible citizenship takes care of the safety needs of both dogs and the communities they are a part of.

Day after day, some or other horrifically exaggerated story against them has been sensationalised and spread creating fear and hostility. Some of the stories are downright false, others are from other places and other times, and most involve only pet dogs. But they have all been strung together to support a misleading malicious narrative that man's best friend has suddenly and inexplicably turned upon us. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In reality, we have never had a smaller, healthier and more friendly street dog population. There are two causes for this. The first is the ongoing animal birth control (ABC) programme run by the municipality wherein dogs are sterilised, vaccinated and returned to their original locations. The second reason, and this has come as a real eye-opener and heart-warmer for me, is that amazing tribe of brave, generous and compassionate folks who feed and care for our street dogs. I have always known of them, spoken to many of them on the phone to help sort things out when they’ve been faced with a problem, but recently I have come to know them personally and see their work first-hand.

This happened as a result of a campaign that was launched by a group that came together to respond to the current situation where dogs are being relentlessly attacked in the media and on ground. A recent rally at Jantar Mantar, ‘India Unites For Animal Rights’ brought under one umbrella (quite literally, given the weather that day!) over 40 animal NGOs, and saw the participation of almost 400-500 people who braved a red alert weather warning to show up coming from as far away as Faridabad and even, Punjab. Miraculously, it stopped raining for the duration of the rally from 2-4 pm but even after the storm burst, people were loath to leave. The spirit and energy of the crowd and the stories that were shared acted as a balm for all of us who’d been heartsick over the violence against defenceless dogs, especially in Kerala where over ,1000 have been killed.

From the rally emerged a core group. We looked for a meaningful way to carry forward our message. We found it in a campaign to vaccinate and feed street dogs through feeders. Named ‘Be A Streetheart’, the campaign aims to show how responsible citizenship takes care of the safety needs of both dogs and the communities they are a part of. Dogs handled by feeders would have no need of catchers, nets, leashes, muzzles or any kind of restraining equipment. Instead they would be cuddled, petted and held in the lap just like the children they are. The dogs being vaccinated would allay people’s newfound fear of them, and the powerful visual image of dogs being held in laps even while receiving injections were aimed to convincingly display just how gentle, trusting and reliable our Indies are.

Locations were selected in North, South, East, West and Central Delhi and in two areas of Noida. Three veterinary organisations -- CGS, Rakshan Trust and the Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre-- came on board to provide vaccines and medical staff. Max Vets sponsored our T-shirts and Farmina provided food. ‘Be A Streetheart’ kicked off on this Gandhi Jayanti at Raj Ghat where we congregated to pay tribute to the man who is recognised as India’s first animal activist. It was Gandhi who rightly said that the greatness of a nation was best judged by the way it treats its animals. (India does pretty poorly). From there, I accompanied the feeding team and Rakshan Trust to West Delhi where I was amazed to discover how well organised our feeders are. There were clean bowls along with buckets of food. They knew the exact location and number of dogs that were to be found in each area. What was most heart-warming was to see how happily the dogs responded. They came bounding out from beneath cars and other resting places to greet their benefactors. They allowed themselves to be picked up and stoically endured the two injections each, before they were gently put down, fed and petted. Within a matter of three hours, 50 dogs had been vaccinated. The same repeated at every location with teams completing between 50-100 dogs each. Within seven days, we had vaccinated over 600 dogs demonstrating how kindness was also more efficient.

Forget what the programme demonstrated to the public, it taught me so much. I met women who get up at 4 am each morning, cook huge pateelas of food, put this into buckets, lug those and drive carefully to different destinations feeding hundreds of hungry, homeless dogs. Along the way, they are frequently accosted by bullies who will abuse and threaten them, occasionally they will be assaulted. I know a 64-year-old feeder who was dragged by her hair down the road. Her hip was dislocated and she had to undergo surgery. Her biggest concern was, who will feed the dogs until I recover? We found a temporary replacement whom she paid to continue the feeding. I am just so impressed by the courage and selflessness of street feeders. They truly are Streethearts.

The next time you see someone feeding dogs, be sure to give them a wag.

The article has been authored by Ambica Shukla, trustee, People for Animals.

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