Fifteen minutes before I started writing this post, I had to deal with a very fat angry man who kept following me and my flat-mate as we went around our building complex looking for a stray pup that had been injured a few days ago and whose medical treatment we have been taking care of. His problem? He doesn’t want strays fed because they are a ‘menace’. These strays are friendly, fed by many kind souls in the colony and help the guards in their job of guarding us.
This isn’t all that stray caretakers go through though. Here are some situations we all face:
There are some people who just can’t stand to see strays get food. They mistakenly assume that a well-fed stray is a dangerous stray, when it’s actually the opposite. Any well-fed creature is more at ease and less likely to get irritable. In the same manner, some mothers are scared of dogs attacking their kids, and pass on that fear of animals to their children. They then aggressively abuse anyone who takes care of strays.
Sad but true. If people see that you are still going to feed the strays, then they start trying to intimidate you into stopping. Most people who feed strays can tell you about the time when they had to face a bunch of pushy-grabby people all by themselves. Sometimes, the reaction is more extreme, as in the case of Baneswar Shau from Calcutta, who used to not only feed the strays in his area but also take them to the vet. He was killed by his neighbor who beat him on the head with a rod.
To some people, spending money on strays is a sign of sheer lunacy. If you feed and vaccinate strays, then they ask you why you’re wasting your money. To them it is a waste. They don’t see that by spending your money to make sure that strays are healthy and disease-free, you’re actually doing a favor to society without expecting any thanks or recognition.
Everywhere I’ve lived where I’ve been able to take care of stray dogs, I’ve always felt a 100% safe no matter what time of the day or night it is. Most thin and short girls would not step out alone for a walk at 3 AM when struck by a bout of insomnia, but I do because I know I have the most loyal friends one could ever hope to have. Even people who only sometimes feed a stray dog talk about how loyal and loving they are.
Feeding and vaccinating strays is not cheap but the option of not feeding and vaccinating them doesn’t occur to most people who take care of strays. We often keep aside a sum of money every month to make sure that we can take care of them and we don’t take away from that sum even if the need arises. Many times, an emergency occurs and we find ourselves spending more than we can really afford to, and making cutbacks in our own needs.
Yes, there are days when despite all your attempts to take care of or to nurse a stray, you lose them. And there are days when you face the ugly side of humanity and witness people poison and kill little puppies for the mistake of being born. There are days when you know what the word ‘heartbreak’ truly means, when your tears don’t stop flowing and your willpower seems to die out, but…
Whether its playing with some puppies, winning over the affection of an aloof stray cat, seeing an injured animal on the road to recovery or just having a few days without anyone bothering you about your love for animals, there are days when you feel like you’ve accomplished much and that all the troubles that came your way were worth it because you look at the harmony of nature around you and you know you helped a little in creating it.
One would think that anyone choosing to become a vet would like animals despite their breeds. Once you start taking care of strays however, you’ll come across many vets who won’t be willing to give the strays shots or treatments because they are strays. You actually have to specify right after saying, “Hello” that you’ll be paying for them in full and then, if you’re lucky, they’ll send an attendant to do the job. Of course, the vets that do treat your animals properly earn your deepest respect.
Most people who take care of strays, take care of stray dogs, but there are also plenty to go beyond that. We include birds, cows, cats, bulls…really any injured animal that we find abandoned and uncared for. We learn more about the animals, and we learn to love even those that we used to fear. I had a deathly fear of oxen till the day I found an injured one resting near my house. After some treatment, he got well and then he would stop outside my gate and I actually pet him!
I have yet to come across a child who is naturally scared of dogs and cats. Most of the time, it is the parents who put a fear of animals in their children. I have seen kids playing with and petting puppies one week and then terrified of them the other. When asked what caused the fear, they say, “Mama and Papa said that the dogs will bite me.” Sometimes you see small kids being cruel to strays and you instinctively know who they learned the cruelty from.
Since you face so much opposition from so many different quarters, you not only toughen up but you also try to learn about how exactly the law protects you and how it lets you down. You also pay attention to any news about the harmful effects of any medicines or food, which products are good for the animal and which are not, and what kinds of treatments you can provide yourself. Give it a little time and you’ll be amazed at how much you’ve learned.
There are days when you are feeding strays and other animal lovers will come and talk to you about the ones in the area that they take care of and you’ll exchange information about the animals. Or you find help in online forums and realize you’re not the only one who goes a little over the top (despite what your friends and family say) when it comes to taking care of strays. It’s nice to not feel so isolated and like the odd-one-out sometimes.
This is perhaps more true if you take care of stray cats since they find it easier to come and go from your house. There are times when I’ve felt like my stray cats spend more time at my place than I do. You may let in a pregnant dog so she can have her pups in peace and safety or you may take in strays when it rains nonstop or when it gets bitterly cold – whatever the reason, your home has the necessary rugs, bowls, newspapers, etc. that you may need at a moment’s notice.
Any time an animal is injured or sick or abandoned by its owners, people come to you and ask you to do something about it. Sometimes, people try to use your generosity against you by leaving their pets near your house, hoping you’ll take them in. Kids try to keep you informed about the puppies or kittens in the area. Most likely you’re called ‘kutte wale bhaiya/didi’ until they learn your name.
After a while of just feeding strays, you realize that that’s not enough. After seeing so much suffering and so many accidents or intentional cruelty, you realize that one way you can help strays is by making sure they are spayed and neutered. It also makes them less likely to howl or to get aggressive and is better for their health too. So you learn to take on the responsibility of the strays by making sure that they can live healthier and happier lives.