Most animal lovers stumble into activism, when they find themselves screaming at someone kicking a dog or bullying an animal. My posts on face book have led people to believe that I am a full time activist. What does that mean? It means different things to different people. Friends & family view it as a job that should pay me while strangers view it as a job I get paid to do. To me it simply means doing what I can to help animals. Is this ever a conscious choice for most of us or should it even be? I don't think so. I get several calls daily from people, asking me inane questions like which turtle they should buy or which breed of dog would suit them.
Sometime back, I got a call from a lady in Mumbai who had bought two donkeys from load workers, to be featured in a movie that would create awareness on the pathetic condition of these donkeys. A noble deed indeed but to what end? She looked after the donkeys until the movie got completed & then one day she realized that the donkeys could not continue to stay with her so she shifted them to a friend's Goushala where they would remain temporarily until she found a permanent home for them. The only other option she had was to return them to the load workers which she didn't want to do. Having run out of options, she called People for Animals, Wardha & asked us to take them in. Now we are an animal shelter house so when we get such calls, we often find ourselves between the rock & a hard place. For starters, animal shelters don't have enough space to take in animals within their own jurisdiction, let alone animals from other cities. And what about the expenses involved in feeding & caring for these animals? In her case, she was willing to bear transportation costs but that is just part of it. Once they are here, what then? We are expected to bend over backwards to accommodate such requests but it makes no sense to do that. I then suggested to her that she approach people to fund their upkeep & once that is done, we will consider taking them in. I never heard from her again.
Another person called me a few days ago, a college student, very sweet & nice sounding. She called to share her frustrations about not being able to do anything for pets that are dumped on the road in Bangalore & Orissa. And then she went on to say that she wanted to help but didn't know how because she is a student & has no time. Finally she implored that I do something to ease their situation. I asked her whether she wanted to help or she wanted help. She seemed taken aback by the question & was even more surprised to learn that I was employed & yet found the time to help animals.Thereafter, I asked her to contact People for Animals, Bangalore & volunteer at their shelter house. She accepted my suggestion gracefully.However; I can only hope that she will act on it. Then there are some others who give us a onetime donation & then keep sending animals into our shelter for a lifetime. These are people who pose to help but in reality are the ones who are seeking help.
A few months back, I was approached by a boy in Yavatmal to look into a case where some construction worker had a Doberman & the boy felt that it was being ill treated. I spoke to the owner of the dog on the phone & although it didn't seem like a case of cruelty, I went all the way to Yavatmal on a weekend to assess the situation. The dog looked fine barring a little skin infection. I was accompanied by a policeman from Wardha who went out of his way to help me in case the situation turned ugly but it was no situation at all. It was simply a matter of the boy feeling that the Doberman deserved a better home. We asked the people around whether they had witnessed any signs of ill treatment & we got a negative response. And then we asked the owner if he would want to surrender the dog to us to help him get a better home. The owner turned angry & flatly refused saying the dog was family. He then agreed to let us get the dog checked by an animal doctor & to buy a new leash as per the law. The vet gave him a clean chit. All this lasted three hours & I finally got back home to a phone call from a disgruntled boy saying that the man was a liar & I had not seen the obvious. I asked the boy if he would adopt the dog if the owner gave him up & he said, "No". Need I say more?
Some complain, without even trying that the law is difficult. The law is not difficult. It is taking legal recourse that is difficult. Who will go all the way? Who will go to court every other day? The law is not a tool to be exclusively used by a few animal activists. It is a tool for every citizen to act if they spot a case of cruelty. People will often spend hours googling details of animal shelters & then call to tell them to act. Why not google to find out how you can act? Animal laws are available for public viewing on both the AWBI website & PFA website. Filing an FIR is common knowledge today. With the internet at your disposal, information is available freely. All one needs to do is use that information. And then there are all kinds of friends. Some call to say, " God bless you for all that you do". While some others call to find out if I will ever get the time to have dinner with them or go out for a movie. Some call just to chit chat in the evenings & complain that I don't give then time. Some super busy colleagues call to find out if I can help them with some work they'd rather avoid. All kinds of calls come in but never do I get a call from anyone saying, "Can I do something to help?"
Work is blessing. I don't care if I've seen the latest movie or whether I'll ever find the time to eat out.It's difficult to do that when you are working in a shelter where animals are fighting for their lives. I don't want to chit chat and faff around. And I don't have the time to accommodate more work to help any colleague. Everybody has a family, everybody has a job & everybody is supposed to have a work life balance. Animal activists too have families & jobs but we have long stopped expecting work life balance. So what is animal activism? It is a gut reaction. It is volunteering your heart. It is a commitment to do the best that you can with what little you have. It is not a job but a duty. It is not something you get paid to do but something you pay a price to do. Some make us look like heroes while some make us look like scoundrels. We are neither heroes nor scoundrels. There is a hero in each one of us. Be the hero. Animal activism is a lot of things but it is not an extraordinary deed to be done by a few, rather, every ordinary man's moral obligation.
Image credit: Tobias Akerboom (at hutmeelz)