Animal Aid Unlimited, Udaipur
When researching what to do in Udaipur, I came across Animal Aid Unlimited, an organization that provides services to the many street dogs, cows, donkeys, etc that roam the city streets. Since I was starting to get bored of the traditional temples, forts, and city palaces that all of the major cities in Rajasthan had, it seemed like a good chance to do something different. Throughout my time in India thus far, I’ve come across more than my share of dogs and cows wandering the streets. Wary of rabies or other diseases, I try to keep my distance from the dogs. I’ve luckily not been hit by a cow yet, although I have been charged a few times. I try to give them a wide berth when passing them on the streets.
That being said, I am a dog lover, and I miss being able to pet and play with dogs, specifically my family’s old Golden Retriever, who we sadly had to put down last summer after nearly 11 wonderful years with her. Animal Aid would be a good opportunity for me to get my animal fix in a safe and controlled environment. I sent an email to Animal Aid the day before asking if it was alright to stop by and help out for a bit, and I received an enthusiastic and friendly response by Claire, the daughter of the founders. I was able to convince Tom (U.K.), from my hostel to come along with me, and we caught a tuk-tuk, since it is located about 20 minutes outside of the city.
When we arrived, we were greeted by Jim Abrams, who turned out to be one of the founders of this amazing organization. He sat us down and gave us a quick background of the organization. Jim and his wife and daughter are originally from Seattle, but noticed there was a lack of options for hurt or sick animals found on the streets in Udaipur. After looking into it, they found that there was in fact nothing at all in place! Neither of them have a background in veterinary medicine, but they shared a love of animals. They decided to set up Animal Aid in 2002. They’ve moved several times since, but hopefully have found a more stable location, as the owner recently let them sign a 20-year lease. They’ve expanded to now hold over 300 animals, the majority of them dogs, with cows coming in second. Due to their many animals, they also have around 40 local staff, who they see are paid higher than average wages for India.
After Jim was done explaining the background, he passed us off to a long-term volunteer, Katie from the U.K., who comes back every year to help out for a few months. She showed us around the different sections of the compound. One thing that struck me was how friendly most of the dogs were, running up to you with their tails wagging, eager for attention. The dogs were divided up depending on the type of care they were receiving. There was a fenced off area for newly arrived dogs that were not yet vaccinated for rabies. Another pen was quartered off for dogs afflicted with mange, a gruesome disease that eats away at the fur and flesh, but can be easily treated with medicine. There was a section for dogs that had been completely healed, but for some reason couldn’t be returned back to the street, so they remained here. Last, were the sections for the handicapped dogs-there was one for blind dogs, and another for dogs with maimed or paralyzed limbs.
At first it was a bit shocking to see, as in Western countries, if a dog would break its leg it would be taken to the vet to get treated immediately. Worse, if it was a stray dog or in a kennel, it would often be euthanized. Animal Aid’s philosophy is that if the animal doesn’t seem to be in any dire pain, that there wasn’t a point in ending the animal’s life. A majority of these dogs’ hind legs were bent in the wrong direction and they used their front legs to move around, scooting their butts on the floor. It also was a bit comical, as it reminded me of a senior citizen home for dogs. Katie explained that these dogs live out the duration of their lives here, as there is no way that they would be able to survive out on the streets. She encouraged us to spend some time with them, as they loved to be petted and rubbed and could be very affectionate.
After finishing up with the tour, she explained that it was feeding time for the calves, and asked us if we wanted to help out. Animal Aid has a number of young orphaned calves that still depend on milk to survive. Thus, they have to be bottle fed and some of the bigger ones needed 5 bottles for each feeding! When the calves saw us approaching with the milk, a few of the bigger ones began to get a bit aggressive in going after the bottles. We had to position our bodies to box out the larger ones when it was time for the smaller ones to get their fill. This is exactly what I imagine growing up on a farm would be like, although there wouldn’t be many orphaned calves.
There were also some extremely sick cows here. Cows in India graze on trash in the streets rather than grass. It becomes dangerous when they ingest plastic, plentiful here in India. The cows can’t digest it and they become bloated and blocked up. Often what happens next is a slow and painful death. Since cows are considered a holy animal in India, it is illegal to kill on in the state of Rajasthan, even if it’s as an act of euthanization. The only option Animal Aid has is to try to ease the cow’s suffering as it dies. There were a few of these cows lying on their sides with blankets and IV’s attached to them, a sad sight to see.
Later in the day we were asked if we wanted to participate in “hydrotherapy” with the handicapped dogs. There was a small pool filled in to about waist high. A few dogs at a time would be lifted into the pool where they would doggy paddle around on their front legs. Volunteers would stay close behind them to help them if they started to sink. Once they reached the end, we would lift them up and carry them back to the other side to repeat a lap. The dogs seemed to love being in the water, and it was hard to tell that they actually were handicapped, as most swam as good as dogs with four working legs! We had some fun with holding some impromptu dog races, each of us cheering on our designated dog.
As we had told our tuk-tuk driver a scheduled time to bring us back into the city, it was sadly time to go. Since I enjoyed my time there so much, I ended up coming back the following day. This time I brought two girls to help out, Marge and Beth (U.K.), and they also had a blast helping take care of all the different animals.
Animal Aid runs entirely on donations for their operating expenses as well as all of their salaries for their local staff. If anybody wants to donate a few dollars to this incredible organization, here is a link to donate online: http://animalaidunlimited.org/how-to-help/donate/ In the chance that anybody happens to be in Udaipur, I highly recommend spending some time volunteering for this wonderful and worthwhile cause!