Govt indifference & shortage of volunteers major hurdles Shakuntala Majumdar, President of Thane SPCA, shares what it takes to deal with the rights of the voiceless animals, birds and fish Q: You actually went against the tide in establishing your unit for welfare and treatment of animals, birds. How did you embark upon this journey and achieved your goal? I think the tide was rising in favour of animals by the time we were growing up. I saw my parents tending street animals and birds since I was old enough to stand up. Our backyard would be full of dogs and cats, sick and injured. There was only one veterinarian available and I saw my mother and him handle rabid dogs bare handed. Many of these dogs and cats stayed on after recovery. It was almost natural for me to align to this cause after I grew up. But of course, I have an inborn passion about serving animals. That helped me to do what I have done. I started looking after the strays of my area, and then graduated to head the Thane SPCA, running the only animal hospital in the district with 4 animal ambulances. I started off in a small way in 1994, in my own area. By 2002 I had gathered enough experience to move onto building the Thane SPCA. I must add that I was encouraged by the then Minister of Animal Welfare Maneka Gandhi into starting the Thane SPCA. Her support has been constant since then. In 2002, with a group of like-minded people I decided to act on the miserable plight of street animals in Thane district. Thane, even though a satellite city of Mumbai, had no awareness of animal welfare and animal rights. Sick and injured animals had absolutely no access to modern medical care. The small but cohesive group made continuous efforts to bring medical aid and relief to these animals on the roads themselves. This finally bore fruit in the form of Thane SPCA Emergency Animal Care Centre on a plot of land. Without waiting for government funding, we built the shelter brick by brick, using private funding to get us the vital electricity and water supplies. Today, our premises can hold a menagerie of 100 + animals. We have a separate quarantine ward, cat ward, wild bird enclosure, and a monkey enclosure â€“ all of this embellished by a beautiful little garden and a turtle pool. We have also built a separate, fully equipped air conditioned Operation Theatre, with modern surgical equipments, including a fully functional state-of-the-art Digital X-RAY unit. To support our work, we operate four ambulances, two of which are the only cattle ambulances in the entire district. In the last 15 years of the establishment of the organisation, more than 70,000 animals were rendered holistic service, and hundreds of animals were successfully re-homed. Stray and wild animals are regularly treated with Homeopathic medication with an excellent success rate. We have a fully functional Legal Team, headed by an experienced advocate dedicated to this cause and three Animal Welfare Officers. This team handles cases of cruelty on a daily basis, including mitigating them on the spot, filing police complaints and /or taking the matters to courts of law. Q: What is your driving force? What makes you connect so beautifully with the four-legged as well as the winged wonders of Nature? Simply my blind love for anything that has furs, feathers and fins. Sometimes shells and scales too. I cannot imagine cruelty being meted out to them. I cannot imagine that cannot have their own rights. I believe that animals are here for a reason of their own. I believe that they have evolved to the extent that they needed to and they co-inherit this planet. Nothing moves me more than seeing an animals eyes, which is in pain. Apart from this, my driving force is my immediate family, and colleagues and staff who work so tirelessly alongside me to make the world a better place for street and working animals. Q: Protection and welfare of stray animals is the most difficult task. What are the major challenges that you face? Governmental indifference is the biggest challenge. This puts animal welfare as the last rung on the list of priorities. Although there are positive changes in the laws related to animal welfare, new rules are being introduced, the knowledge should percolate to the implementing authorities. This is not happening. This is definitely the biggest challenge. The second challenge is that while private citizens and NGOs are ready to shoulder the responsibilities, there is very little on the ground level help available to them. Grants involve reams of paperwork. Most people shy away from such time consuming activities because it takes away the focus from actual animal work to administrative work. As an organisation running an institution which deals with sick animals, we also face a lack of volunteers. Q: The present animal protection laws lack teeth. Do you think there is a need for their modification for better implementation? That process has already started. I am totally positive about the future of animal rights. Media has played a large part to unify activists together and helped their voice reach the governments. The recent Dog breeding and Marketing rules, Aquarium and Fish Tank rules and Regulation of Livestock Markets Rules, for example, are great strides in that direction. Who could have thought that we would actually have a list of fishes that would be on a banned list? However, the implementation part will be a different ballgame altogether. Here activists need to be educated and trained to be able to revert to the regulatory authorities about any discrepancies that they notice. We all need to be on high alert because it will be impossible to stop all trade altogether. At the same time, Police and Judiciary need to be sensitised thoroughly about the laws. Q: When it comes to common man, he finds himself helpless in helping the stray animals and birds if a crime is committed against them because the police don't do the needful and not everyone has the NGO numbers. What should be his role? That is why I mentioned police sensitisation. Police have to take action in case of animal cruelty, and a citizen should be made aware of this through the different media. Media plays a big part in educating the masses. All newspapers, magazines like yours, should flash animal rights provisions again and again. There should be a database of animal activists who are available to help citizens, and such lists should again be circulated among citizens. There should be training sessions by NGOs for interested citizens who wish to know and do something when faced with a situation. A citizen should be made aware of his role. Life has become extremely connected with internet facilities. Commonest citizens can now search for help on Google and act accordingly.