Monami Dutta, a resident of Chittaranjan Park, Delhi, begins her day at five to cook for stray dogs. She feeds around 80 canines in Kalkaji, 85 along the stretch from DND flyover to Mayur Vihar Phase I, and 55 puppies under the age of three months at a gaushala at one end of the DND flyover.
Dutta has now stopped counting—she is sure this number will only increase by the day. In the morning, she makes chicken and rice at home, puts these in a trunk and drives to almost 20 spots to feed the pooches. “We were encountering difficulties feeding strays. The police were not ready to listen if we didn’t have a pass. Volunteers were being stopped before the ‘feeder passes’ from the DCP office were issued,” says Dutta.
Thousands of stray cats and dogs in India depend on food and waste from markets, restaurants and grocery shops. But with coronavirus sending people into isolation and public establishments shutting down, strays are having a hard time finding food. An animal rights activist who wished to remain anonymous claimed that some had died of hunger and thirst on roads, though Outlook could not verify these reports. Sources say that a few dogs in Pocket 52 of Chittaranjan Park are starving.
Photo By Jitender Gupta
“I have found stray dogs that are restless and run from one place to another in search for food. Some of my regular dogs are missing as I couldn’t go out for three days. We don’t have enough volunteers or resources to cover each area,” says Dutta. Animal lovers have urged people to keep a bowl of water and food outside their houses for strays.
Many who fed animals regularly stopped due to the coronavirus scare until BJP leader and animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi announced in a letter, “Street dogs, cows and birds can neither get nor give coronavirus to humans. However, in the event of a lockdown, if they are not fed, many will die, creating another kind of a problem. I have requested animal welfare workers to feed animals during this period of lockdown. I will be doing the same.” She has been regularly tweeting about not abandoning pets during the pandemic and requested law-enforcement authorities to cooperate with people who feed strays.
Anyone with an issue while feeding can refer to this letter,do so under the govt norms,do not step out in groups or for longer— People For Animals India (@pfaindia) March 23, 2020
Keep dry food and bigger water bowls that sustains for longer.From the safety of our home we can help .Place food/water bowls right outside your home. pic.twitter.com/1tvrkw7oEg
Cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai have many who feed, but there are a few localities that don’t have regular feeders. Consequently, the animals there are in a bad state. Leena Tandon, writer, director and co-founder of House of Paws, an animal-welfare NGO, says, “Most of us are connected with each other on WhatsApp and Facebook groups and keep sharing updates daily. During the initial days of the lockdown, all of us faced issues as pet shops and chicken shops were shut, but thankfully, these also now come under essential services. The biggest hurdle we are facing now is the lack of food stock and travel options as public transport is completely shut. Many don’t have their own vehicle to transport food.” Tandon adds that they have appealed for donations in kind, which people generously fulfill.
The interrupted supply chain has also affected Bombay Animal Rights, a collective of animal lovers. While it has potential donors to feed starving strays and volunteers to reach out to animals, it does not have any pet food even though wholesalers are stocked up and happy to sell. Awaaz Voice of Stray Animals requires 35 kg of dog food every day to complete one round of feeding. Deepa Talib of The Anubis-Tiger Foundation, Mumbai, says, “In the spirit of unity against COVID-19 we have pledged our full support to Awaaz to fund their feeding programme until the end of the lockdown in remote parts Goregaon and Andheri where feeders can’t reach. We have told them to feed strays—we will foot the bill till feeders are back on their feet.”
“For the past couple of days, animal welfare workers have gone out of their way to feed strays and cops have been cooperative and understanding,” says filmmaker Salil Jason Fernandez. “Pranaya Ashok, DCP operations and official spokesperson, Mumbai Police, reassured us that although there is a shortage of feeder passes, we need not worry—once we identify ourselves at the local police station as a feeder of a designated area, we will get the necessary permissions. Feeders, however, still face other hurdles—there is a shortage of supplies like milk, bread and rice, and transportation to remote areas is challenging. However, I have not faced any issues feeding strays in Bandra West.”
In Chennai, Blue Cross of India is focusing on feeding animals who depend on food vendors catering to employees in industrial areas, IT parks, markets and university campuses. Dawn William, the residential general manager of the organisation, says, “Blue Cross India’s kitchen is now cooking food for more than a thousand animals. We also give food to volunteers who help in feeding strays in their and neighbouring areas. We are now provisioning 150 kg rice, 15 kg dal, 15 kg soya powder, 50 litre curd and 150 litre milk for puppies.” Feeders in Chennai are requesting people to donate rice, dal, milk and curd and are willing to collect it from their doorsteps.
(Image Credit: Blue Cross, Chennai)
Animal lovers feel that feeding strays is not an easy task in India, more so during the lockdown. The WHO’s linking of coronavirus to animals has done further damage. Volunteers are facing issues, including opposition, aggression and threats from their neighbours. Some claim that tenants have received eviction notices for feeding strays. “People have even gone to the extent of poisoning or relocating neighbourhood dogs,” says Tandon. “We need more compassionate people to make this planet a better place to live. We appeal to people to come and join us in this cause.”
(Image Credit: Ankit Vora, Mumbai)
For now, animal lovers are relieved that the government is supportive of feeding and requesting people to not stop doing it. The cops who were strict in the beginning of the lockdown are now cordial and even supervise the feeding at times. Tandon stresses that no matter what the circumstances, the feeder community of Mumbai has always managed to bring food to strays and take care of them—even if it means navigating flooded streets during Mumbai’s infamous monsoon or travelling long distances in heavy traffic.