A sanctuary for injured street animals in Udaipur, Rajasthan, Animal Aid Unlimited is a paw-mazing NGO that works tirelessly to rescue thousands of injured and sick animals every year and provides them the much needed tender-loving-care. Founded by Erika, Jim and Claire Abrams-Myers, the place is a safe haven for injured strays in Udaipur. Originally from Seattle, the founders call Udaipur their home since the past 15 years or so.
We interviewed Erika, one of the founding members, to tell us about their rescue efforts and what led to the creation of Animal Aid Unlimited:
Tell us how Animal Aid Unlimited came into being?
My family is from the USA but had always loved India and had been living part-time in Udaipur since 1995 or so. We saw a need for medical services for the many ownerless street animals here. We started small with only our own personal resources to give comfort to dogs in our neighbourhood. We needed veterinary help and hired a newly-graduated vet who joined our mission with tremendous enthusiasm and we started learning together how to help the animals who have no one — to dress their wounds, splint their fractures, provide antibiotics for infections, sterilize the dogs to reduce the suffering of puppies because of lack of food…and educating the community about the tremendous opportunity for each of us to become animal protectors. The calls for rescue started very slowly because at that time people didn’t have mobile phones. Gradually the numbers increased, we got an ambulance donated to us and from small beginnings in 2002 we have today treated more than 70,000 animals in Udaipur and receive more than 50 calls a day. Animal Aid Unlimited has made Udaipur the most active city for animal rescue of its size in India.
Are you currently just operating in Udaipur or other parts in India as well? Do you plan to expand your rescue efforts?
The rescue center is in Udaipur but we participate in national animal protection activities through the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (www.fiapo.org).
What are the major challenges you face in your day-to-day operations?
There is too much plastic and garbage on the streets and cows eat it. People are careless with their consumption of food in plastic bags. We find 30, 40 kgs of plastic in the stomachs of wandering cows. The dairy industry is a problem. This means that the male calves are taken for slaughter because dairy farmers almost never can afford to feed bull calves. For this reason, India has the largest meat export in the world.
People drive carelessly and fast. Dogs, donkeys, cows are injured by vehicles in the dozens every day, even in Udaipur which only has a population of 400,000!
Other hardships: the term puppy mills refers to people who trade in breed dogs. They often inter-breed, sell puppies too young, over-breed the mothers, and work animals for profit. This is never good for the animals.
Desi dogs, indigenous to this region, are adapted to the climate. They are clever, healthy, sensitive, gentle and naturally suitable for Indian climate.
Your before-and-after animal rescue videos are simply amazing. Are your vets also volunteers? Do you release the healed pets back into the location where you picked them from? Do you work towards getting your rescue pets adopted?
Animal Aid Unlimited has 70 staff members and volunteers from all over the world. In this region most people don’t let street dogs enter their homes but many families do feed them outside. Adoptions are not common, so before returning street dogs to their neighborhoods, we make sure that someone has pledged to watch out for the returning dog. There are usually many doggie friends awaiting his or her arrival.
Tell us about your outreach programs.
Our staff and volunteers pass out literature explaining how eating meat and dairy products hurts animals, and we meet each week with people who have called for animal help and are building an ever-more compassionate community. People are eager to help animals. This is clear by the sheer number of requests for animal help we get each day. They need a path to express their compassion and Animal Aid makes it easy to help them.
Do you receive any help from the local government body as such? What could be better according to your experience?
The government has been supportive of animal rescue but they do not provide us with money. The local government sold us a small piece of property (3 bigas) at a concessional rate and we are developing it for an ABC (birth control) center near Udaipur. Our shelter is currently on a 20-year leased property about 15 minutes drive from the center of Udaipur.
Do you collaborate with other animal rescue organisations in India?
Yes we love collaborations. We share information, sometimes resources; we love to network by attending workshops and conferences organised by FIAPO and we consider ourself in a close collaboration with people in this community, because most of the animals we treat and save would not be alive today if not for the beautiful people of Udaipur who have alerted us and often helped with the rescue of thousands of animals.
Tell us about the shop feature on your website? Are they made by volunteers locally?
The pretty costume glass jewelry in the shop is made by volunteers. The glass beads are purchased wholesale by volunteers in Jaipur, Delhi and Chennai. 100 percent of the labor is donated and the proceeds go to animal rescue animaalaidunlimited.org/how-to-help/shop/
According to your experience, what are some of the simple yet crucial things someone can do to help an injured stray while waiting for a rescue team to arrive?
If the animal is stuck in traffic, try to move the animal to the side of the road. If it is a dog, an injured dog may be frightened and may snap–even a friendly dog–to protect herself. In case a dog is snapping, stand to the side of the road and try to re-direct traffic but do not put yourself in danger of being hit.
If traffic is no problem, put a blanket over the injured animal if it is cool weather or night.
If you suspect the animal has been laying a long time, offer her water. She may be very dehydrated.
If blood is oozing from a wound on a large animal like a cow, try to press cloth over the wound to stop the bleeding.
If the animal is mobile try to confine it. If it is a dog, try to confine it in someone’s garden or better still, a room in someone’s house. Tie a donkey or a cow.
What keeps you going?
Joy at the recovery of these beautiful, astounding angels. Each one of us, whatever our species, whether a goat, a cat, a cow, a dog, a fish, a bird–every living creature delights in life and above all, she wants to live in freedom. In freedom to exercise all the gifts every animal was born with–the gift of swimming for fish, flight for birds, grazing and grooming for cows, playing in herds for donkeys, –all animals are born with intelligence and sensitivity. What joy it brings to restore them to good health so that just like humans, they can enjoy their days pursuing their own interests–and their interests are many.
How can a fellow dog lover help? Your message to fellow dog lovers out there.
Do not buy breed dogs. There are incredibly wonderful desi Indi-dogs on every street in India. Adopt one of them because they need you. Breeders of dogs are often business people who do not put the well-being of the breed foremost, they over-breed the mother, they sell the puppies too young, and they add to an over-grown population. The dog population grows or shrinks because of human garbage on the streets. Please help by supporting your local animal charities, driving slowly, eliminating consumption of meat and dairy, don’t buy leather, be sure to spay and neuter your own pet dogs, and teach all the children in your area how to greet and become friends with the dogs on the streets. Carry inexpensive biscuits with you at all times. If a dog is barking at you, throw a biscuit to her–she will almost always become your friend. Speak sweetly to street dogs–they have as much right and need to be here as do you or I.
Watch the below video of the founding members of Animal Aid Unlimited that is a glimpse into their selfless journey. Check out their How To Help page to do your bit in assisting the NGO help and heal countless other animal lives.