Helping Street Dogs

Helping Street Dogs

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Our animal chaplain shares inspiration for sustaining canine advocacy from a mother-daughter team in India.

“There are just so many animals that need help!” she tells me. “I feel so bad I can’t help them all. It’s overwhelming to think about how many dogs are suffering around the world.”

I understand this woman’s heartbreak. Those of us who love animals can’t help but see the dark side of human love for pets. From crowded shelters to puppy mills and dog-fighting rings, life for some of “man’s best friends” can seem pretty bleak. It’s easy to sink into empathetic distress or compassion fatigue. It’s hard to sustain our advocacy.

When I work with advocates to help them build resilience, my number one tip is to balance their consumption of news about animals. Reading only about the problems can lead to burnout. We must balance the painful stories with inspiring ones.

Here is one of my favorite inspiring (true!) stories of a mother-and-daughter team based in Baroda, Gujarat, India.

Helping Stray Canines

Mrs. Hansa Roy, a geologist, and her daughter Dr. Kuhu Roy, a nutritionist, have been looking after the wellbeing of stray dogs for almost two decades through their own funding. Each day, Mrs. Roy travels to over 70 locations—spread out over 50 kilometers—to feed more than 250 stray dogs. She’s been instrumental in ensuring the dogs have been spayed or neutered and vaccinated against rabies.

Mrs. Roy also helps make sure their individual medical needs are looked after. The two women share their home with “less adoptable” animals who are blind or paralyzed as well as senior rescued “stray” dogs. Having filed more than 100 police cases related to animal cruelty and violation of animal rights, the pair estimate the number of dog lives they have cared for at over 3000.

Give Animals a Brake

Addressing Problems at Their Roots

After losing countless animals to brutal run-downs and noticing that their country’s “Road Safety Week” program, organized by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, did not mention animals, the Roys created a traffic awareness campaign aimed at reducing animal (both wildlife and stray) road accidents and mishaps by promoting compassion, sensitization, awareness, and direct action.

They first created an online petition urging the Government of India to include messages of kindness and compassion towards animals within the Road Safety Week communications. Then, they partnered with Ms. Gitanjali Rao, an animation filmmaker and an ardent animal lover, to create a compelling campaign logo and a YouTube video reminding people to look for sleeping animals under cars before driving and to brake for animals in roadways—actions that can help save the lives of both animals and fellow humans.

Next, they created an on-the-ground initiative spread through free bumper stickers and posters that could be placed in workplaces, clinics, and educational institutions. To promote inclusivity, the logo includes a dozen animals and is available in multiple languages, including Hindi, Bengali, Malayalam, Gujarati, and English.

Dr. Roy also sent a letter to the Prime Minister’s office, which was directly responded to positively. “This is indeed a landmark move because animals on the roads so far have never been considered when it comes to giving out messages of kindness while driving,” she reflects. “My mother and I will keep pushing from our end so that the dream we see for a better tomorrow for man-animal harmony in India becomes a reality.”

Creating a non-profit, Bridging Rainbows Foundation, they identified ways to reach out extensively within their community and work with the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways to spread awareness about the campaign.

Encouraging Harmony Between Animals and Humans

Unsurprisingly, the Roys note they have received significant flak (social boycotting, public defamation, criminal intimidation, and character assassination) for their attending to stray dogs. Rabies is a serious problem in India, and dogs are a primary vector for the disease. According to the World Health Organization, India accounts for 36% of the global deaths due to rabies, and deaths are on the rise. As a result, episodic mass killings of stray dogs have been reported, even though India’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960 protects stray animals and allows for the punishment of humans who are cruel to animals.

The Roys are quick to point out the penalty is meager, and animal advocates across India have been pushing for its amendment. Further, they note that data between “pets” and “strays” is not segregated, and so street dogs can often be blamed for bites from animal companions.

In response to their concerns, the Roys published a handbook, Can a Stray Dog Become Man’s Best Friend? 5 Steps to Harmonious Living with Stray Dogs. The book educates people on the Animal Birth Control (ABC) program which “aims to eradicate rabies and simultaneously contain the stray dog population in a humane manner.” Although they are realistic in acknowledging that not everyone will become a dog lover, the Roys explain to those critical of stray dog care that hand-feeding dogs increases a dog’s trust, which then makes the dog less likely to be aggressive and more likely to be easily caught for vaccination and sterilization.

With the ABC policy being regularly attacked and its opponents sometimes calling for harsh measures against stray dogs, the Roys face an increasingly uphill battle towards animal-human harmony. They have requested the Government of India digitize the ABC program to increase transparency and accountability, remarking: “If digitization is not introduced, the revised Rules will remain an empty formality leading to repetition of serious lapses in implementation, that will lead to the death of ABC 2023 Rules.”

Sustaining Advocacy When the Going Gets Rough

Inspired by their projects, I wondered what the Roys did for their own self-care. How do they avoid burnout and sustain their advocacy? Here’s what they told me:

Mrs. Hansa Roy:Compassion sustains and heals. A 16-hour-a-day schedule is very demanding. But it is counteracted by the love I receive from the stray dogs, which simply leaves no room for compassion fatigue. I am a daily constant in their otherwise unpredictable life. Giving them the love, care, and dignity they deserve, and watching them regain health from illness or injury transports me to a different world.

Every day is a challenge but it also brings hope for a better tomorrow. This roller coaster journey has given meaning to my life and has become my identity too. Chance meetings with strangers who offer a kind word to me make my day.

In my ‘me time,’ I immerse myself in books and newspapers with my cup of Darjeeling tea, the only luxury in my life. For some light reading, I always return to Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes. I also do sudoku or crosswords and hum to songs while cooking and doing house chores.”

Dr. Kuhu Roy: “The past eighteen years have been an emotional roller coaster ride because the life of stray dogs is very unpredictable. I experience all the emotions every single day—the happiness and joy of being able to bring some dignity into their lives to the sorrow of loss and anger against the people who oppose our work. With the responsibility of so many animals on us, there is no room for compassion fatigue in my life. I draw my inspiration from stray dogs. They thrive in adversity, and so do I.

For the sake of my mental health, I surround myself with those who understand where I come from and why I have chosen this tough way of life. I find much peace in the company of the companion animals I have at home. I also love listening to the marginalized people during the companion animal loss support group meetings. Upon completion of my training as a pet loss grief specialist, I wish to extend more help to them. I also find writing very cathartic and pen my thoughts, with the hope that the beauty and the plight of stray dogs will be heard, raising awareness and bringing the change they need.”

Want more inspiring stories about saving animals? Read Roosters Rule: Finding Purpose Through Animal Rescue.

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