As the pandemic hit the country hard, roads became deserted and shops shut their doors. It was a tough time for stray animals which depend on the kindness and compassion of human beings for food to survive. With the lockdown in place and the stray dogs left all alone to fend for themselves, they slept hungry.
One thing that the pandemic has brought to light is that there are thousands of genuinely concerned, empathetic and caring people around the country. Talking about the plight of stray dogs, one bunch of people are worth mentioning — the good people running PAWS (People for Animal Welfare Services). PAWS is a Thrissur-based non-governmental organisation that stepped in when stray dogs were in distress.
Speaking with Platocast, Preethi Sreevalsan, who founded PAWS, says: “I come from a family where almost everyone is an animal lover and we have always had pets at home. Our first pet was a Guinea pig, we have had hens, cats and dogs. When I came to my hometown in Kerala after completing my post-graduation, I would see injured animals and my automatic instinct would be to pick them up and take them to the hospital. People who knew about it started calling me for help every time they came across an injured animal, and I realised that I could not do this alone.”
There was this one incident where Preethi came across a truck full of pigs being taken away to be slaughtered. As she watched, she saw that a pig had fallen off the truck on the road.
“I saw the pig lying on the road, breathing heavily, and was thinking about how to save it when I saw that the truck came back and someone dragged the pig inside and drove off. This incident shook me. I cried for days. I soon realised that sitting at home and crying is not me, I will have to stand up for animals and fight for their rights. My mother suggested that I form a group where like-minded people could come together to help dogs and other animals, and thus PAWS came into existence,” Preethi says.
Preethi, 42, completed her Bachelors and post-graduation in Madras. She comes from a family that has encouraged her to always voice her opinions.
“There are about 40 volunteers at PAWS and 15-20 active members. We have been feeding around 200+ strays since March 2020 amid the lockdown. We cook 18 kilos of rice every day. Last year, we bought sacks of cattle feed for stray cattle as well. We did not have to do that this year as there was early rain and a lot of fodder,” says Preethi.
PAWS believes that the world does not belong to human beings alone and that we have only been given a space here. We should learn to share the space with all other creatures peacefully.
“We rescue cattle, dogs and cats — the ones that are sick, injured and abandoned. We also have a shelter for these animals. We don’t yet have our own treatment facility so we depend on hospitals. We have to go on hospital visits every day. We get calls from all over the district. In October last year, we even launched a foster campaign for one month — the idea was to get more foster homes. It was endorsed by some celebrities from the Malayalam film industry. We also do awareness programmes and adoption drives,” Preethy says.
“We often come across animals which have fallen into deep wells. Last year, the Fire and Rescue Department DGP took a decision that government machinery will no longer be available for rescuing animals. From that day onwards, we began rescuing animals that fall into wells and we have completed over 120 rescues so far,” she adds.
The Delhi High Court recently declared that stray dogs have the “Right To Food”. “Animals have a legal right to live with compassion, respect, and dignity,” the court had stated. “Animals are sentient beings with inherent worth. As a result, every citizen, including governmental and non-governmental organizations, has a moral obligation to safeguard such beings.”
Talking about the same, Preethi says: “This is a welcome step, especially because people who feed stray dogs are often threatened by people who are against it. This is a decision that we as animal lovers must celebrate.”
In a final message to the common people, Preethi says: “All of us need to start thinking beyond only our own well-being. There are so many creatures that are less fortunate. If all of us do our bit to help these animals, there would be a huge difference in the world.”