Saturday, 4 February 2017

Animal Aid

Today we visited Animal Aid, a hospital and sanctuary for the street animals of Udaipur.

From the minute we arrive we can feel this is a good place. Once through the main gate we have to climb over a low metal fence designed to keep the free running tortoises, all with cracked or broken shells, from making their escape. We then spot five or six dogs gleefully whizzing about in wheelchairs, seemingly unaware of their wide wheeled hind quarters as they crash into trees and any human legs that don't get out of the way fast enough. Tails would be wagging for sure if they hadn't been paralysed when the dog attached were injured in the accidents that disabled them.

We receive a really warm welcome and chat to one of the founders, who tells us a bit about the place and warns that we might find it hard when we hear some of their charges' stories. It is a surprisingly peaceful place, considering how many semi-wild animals are confined within a relatively small area; occasional scuffles break out, there is a surreal moment when all of the dogs start howling in unison, and I didn't realise how violent even lame donkeys can be to each other when food is around, but on the whole the animals socialise well and I guess just realise that they are in a good place and that, despite their injuries and diseases, they are the lucky ones.

We get to bottle feed the calves first; some are orphans, some have been hit by cars, and others cruelly abandoned at the side of the road at birth by their human owners for daring to be male. There is a large pale of milk to fill the bottles from, some of the calves are more enthusiastic than others when it comes to feeding. One cheeky little fella in particular doesn't let having his leg in plaster stop him from chasing any bottle in sight, the plaster cast leg dead straight and awkward, not slowing him down in the slightest

The majority of the animals here are street dogs and have either been hit by cars or have diseases. There is a large paddock of 150 dogs convalescing after injuries or surgeries. They are rotated in and out of their kennels to prevent any territorial conflicts, and there are various bandages on legs and heads in cones. These dogs, along with the ones in the paddock being treated for mange and other skin diseases, will be released back onto the streets when they are well enough, but for now they are fed and watered and shown love and kindness.

Other dogs will live out their days here, the blind and permanently disabled dogs would not survive back on the streets, so they are given a permanent home. We spend some time with the blind dogs; some seek out our affection, others are more tentative and take longer to relax around us. We are warned that others are not friendly, so we leave those alone to sleep in the dirt. We also get to spend a few hours with the disabled dogs; Michael helps the Indian women bathe a procession of them, holding up their rears for a thorough shampooing, often really filthy from dragging their useless legs along the ground. Other dogs have limited mobility and it's hard not to smile at the pups whose front legs work perfectly well but whose rear legs seem to have a mind of their own and move in completely random directions, causing the dog to stumble as they zigzag across the paddock. A few of the dogs have learnt to balance on their front legs lifting their hind legs into the air while they run, and so look a bit like kangaroo/street dog cross-breeds.

I spent some time with two dogs separated into their own paddock, both very enthusiastic for affection. In fact any time I stopped petting them I get a firm nudge with a wet nose the make me start again.

There are larger animals here too. Cows often victims of traffic accidents, others have injuries from fights or disease. One with a huge tumour hanging from its side, many lame or with plaster castes on their legs, and a few unfortunate ones with comical bandages round their heads having injuries to their faces or with a missing horn. Then there are the cows that are really poorly, the ones that are too ill to even stand, and some can barely lift their heads off their foam mattresses. Conscious, and probably waiting to die, but cared for and with pain relief and a million times better than being left alone on the streets.

Making up the menagerie are donkeys too lame or old to work -- kicked out onto the streets after a lifetime of labour -- a few lone goats, and a huge hairless camel!

Running a hospital and sanctuary like this in a place like India must be a hugely daunting task. So many in need of care and attention and limited resources. In fact two ambulances filled with new patients arrive while we are there. I'm so glad we were able to visit and see the work done by all the dedicated people that work here.