When the man-animal conflict plays out on the streets of a busy city, sustainable and humanitarian solutions are hard to find. The municipal solution of indiscriminate culling of street dogs is too extreme while sterilisation and vaccination drives remain patchy in their implementation. In Chennai, the organisers of Chennai Adoption Drive (CAD) – its 19th episode was oranised at at 78/1, McNichols Road, Chetpet on Sunday, Nov 10- are busy in finding homes for at risk street dogs and cats, providing a healthy model to synergise the demands of animal lovers who oppose any form of cruelties against animals and the concerns of those who are anxious about diseases like rabies; roughly 36% of the world’s rabies deaths occur in India each year, most of those when children come into contact with infected dogs ( World Health Organisation Bulletin, 2009 ).
“We started approximately two years ago. We were about 10 to 20 friends who already helped street dogs in the neighborhood. We’ll collect them, keep them in the house, foster for 10-20 days, then we’ll put them on Facebook for adoption” says Murali Anand, who along with his wife Jennifer started this drive. “When we take the puppies from the road, they are full of dirt, they look very weak, so we give them food and they put on weight, they look little fluffy. We make sure they look little fancy….we are very clear people need the aesthetics, people want something cute. They don’t want to hear the story where we rescued, how we rescued.” The group follows a volunteer driven model and the animals, mostly Indian dogs, are given free in adoption.” We have a group of volunteers who are staying across the city…Now we are properly organising, we will run our database, who’s the guy who’s there. I’ll ping that guy and ask whether he can help.”He says.
People who keep these rescued animals at their houses are called foster parents- the lynch pins of the whole drive.These rescued animals are kept with their foster parents while a search for a permanent home ensues. ” Being a foster parent essentially means you act as a stop-gap between the time of rescue & the time an animal in need find her/his forever home.” says Sachin Kumar, a volunteer. The group does not have any shelter house, therefore instances of returned animals becomes quite a problem.”There is quite a bit of interviewing procedure.We ask a lot of questions whether it’s that person’s first adoption and why would they want to adopt an Indian dog. Sometimes, after they (puppies) grow up people say this doesn’t look nice and I want to give away the dog. So we do a lot of filtering before the adoption happens. Even in that case there is a lot of return that happens so the foster parents have to take them back until they find another home”.
Talking about people’s preference for looks in selection of dogs for adoption, Siddhartha, another volunteer says, “it’s like racial discrimination almost. In fact today there was a dog that looked like a Lab ( Labrador Retriever ) , that’s the first thing that went because that’s what people want. They don’t get that pedigree dogs and mongrels are pretty much the same, they’re still animals.”
The group experiences a lot of reluctance from prospective adopters when it comes to the adoption of Indian dogs. “When people come and realise the animal is an Indian breed, they are reluctant to adopt the animal, so we have to sit with them and break it down and tell them Indian breeds are just as good. That’s one definite challenge.” Says Susmita Jadhav, another volunteer who thinks that apart from adoptions sterlisation of street dogs is also important. ” We’re just trying spread awareness about sterilising because once you sterilise you have a smaller number of animals that need homes. A lot of people think that sterilisation is bad, “why are you cutting up the animal”. It’s better to sterilise puppies rather than leave them on the roads where a truck can just run over them. Isn’t that more cruel? You can’t find homes for all of them though. We have tried. At the most that we can do is sterilise them, give them back from where they came from.”
At present, the Drive is organised on a Sunday of each month. Using the expertise of his profession, Murali, who also runs an advertising firm ‘Silver Cycle’ handling clients like Radio Mirchi and Renault, creates merchandise- calendars, t-shirts etc.- related to the cause of animal welfare. The proceeds from the sale of this merchandise go towards the purchase of medicines and food of the rescued animals. Though, there are no big plans in the pipeline, if the opportunity comes the group may think about aligning with NGOs in other cities committed to the same cause or even larger causes like rehablitation of at risk children.