Shelters in Shackles: Time to implement sustainable models to care for street animals.

The Noida Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) (now called the Noida Authority Animal Shelter) has been a safe space for the care and rehabilitation of over 1200 abandoned, diseased or abused animals. But after a dispute between the local authority and the shelter staff over the non-payment of salaries for 3 months, the shelter was struggling to provide basic services to the animals in its care. FIAPO was proud to stand by all those who stepped up to support the shelter as the problems with the local authority eventually resolved.

Unfortunately, shelters, hospitals, hospices and sanctuaries for animals don’t just struggle because of apathetic (or sometimes manipulative) public offices. Sometimes there isn’t enough staff, sometimes the protocols and policies are poor (or worse, absent), sometimes the people running the shelter need training and often there are too many animals without adequate resources or manpower or space to care for them. Meanwhile, there are (by some estimates) 12 million street dogs in India, and even more abandoned dairy cattle, horses, donkeys, pigs, monkeys, birds, reptiles and many other animals that get caught up in conflict in our urban jungles.

While the animal care facilities in our country are burdened and struggling, the animals in distress continue to grow. If we are serious about providing care at any significant scale, clearly the sheltering model isn’t going to work, calling for a radical shift in how we respond with a more sustainable method of caring for street animals.
An alternative model that stands a winning chance is that of on-site first-aid programme. A vigorous and well-planned on-sight first aid program uses lesser resources than a shelter, is a more timely approach for treatment, and can provide aid to 70% of the cases that need assistance.

Popularised in Mumbai (thanks to the work of Abodh Aras of the Welfare of Stray Dogs),and run successfully in Pune, and with FIAPO-led projects in Indore and Varanasi, this model enables us to treat animals with wounds, skin ailments, maggot infections and small injures where they live, enabling them to also heal much faster and escape the infections of a shelter- saving time and considerable resources which can otherwise be utilized by shelters to tend to more critical cases. Imagine if 70% of all dogs in a shelter didn’t have to be there and could just be treated on-site!
However, if you are already doing first-aid of animals in your city, be warned! It is easy to miss out the key ingredients that make an on-site first-aid programme a viable alternative to taking every animal to the shelter. Unless you are following the methodology of mapping your area (and sticking to it), identifying and training volunteers, nurturing your community, measuring impact, recording data and follow-ups – and doing this in an organized, systematic manner, you are unlikely to reap the benefits of this wonderful technique. (So write in if you’d like to know more!)

Not only is on-site first-aid great for the animals, but it is one of the strongest ways to foster a positive relationship between the communities and its resident animals. Done regularly and with method, many people in local communities step up to join the programme, or foster dogs needing more attention, or at least make a phone-call if an animal is injured in their community. This way, we can not only provide life-saving first-aid to animals, but also ensure that the community they live in itself cares for them.
Having an alternative to shelters means that under instances of neglect and difficulty at many facilities, we are better prepared with a holistic model which is certainly the need of the hour. So if you are wanting to do more for animals in your city, it’s time to re-imagine your goal – not a shelter under pressure struggling to help animals brought to it, but a people-powered wave of change that reaches animals all over the city, with love and medicine.