Doing it all with nothing

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, Jan/Feb 1998:

BOMBAY––An American shelter worker, used to
stainless steel cages on vinyl floors, the din of barking dogs,
and a busy killing room, could easily be misled. The Bombay
SPCA has little or nothing of stainless steel, no vinyl floor covering,
the street-wise dogs keep their peace, and though the
shelter includes a new electric crematorium, used often in traditional
Hindu ceremonies by grieving petkeepers, there is no
killing room, nor any killing of healthy or recoverable animals.
Nor is the Bombay SPCA located, like most U.S.
shelters, at the edge of town, near the dump, or crammed into
a single cinder block building.
Indeed, the Bombay SPCA at a glance looks more
like a crumbling old army post or convent than an animal shelter,
until one sees the 250-odd animals of several dozen species
who occupy the premises at any given time: here a former carriage
horse with a broken leg and his ribs showing, there a
burro with a severely scarred face, to the left a walk-in cage of
songbirds recently confiscated from street vendors, to the right
an exercise yard full of humpbacked Brahmin cattle, and dog
and cat areas both ahead and behind.

Century-old stone walls and a ceremonial arch staffed
by uniformed guards divide the Bombay SPCA from the busy
streets and teeming tenements of one of the world’s biggest
cities, with a human population of more than 10 million––comparable
to that of the Los Angeles/San Diego corridor, yet with
less than 6% of the southern California average per capita
income, no freeways, and much of the transportation workload
still handled by draft animals.
Established in 1874, the Bombay SPCA sprawls over
8.5 acres, an oasis of green banyan trees, flowering vines, and
tall palms shading more than a dozen separate kennels and
barns. The central project is the operation of the Bai Sakarai
Dinshaw Petit Hospital for Animals, open 24 hours a day,
whose resident staff is supplemented by students and interns
from the nearby Bombay Veterinary College. A walk-in emergency
clinic near the front gate serves the pets of the poor.
More than 60% of the animals are treated without charge.
Farther into the grounds are an intensive care surgical
unit, an ICU recovery ward, an isolation ward, a post-operative
recovery ward, special wards for surgery and recovery of
cats, cattle, horses, elephants, camels, and wildlife, two
aviaries, and a separate area for handling animals with maggots
and/or mange. Suspected rabid animals are quarantined in still
another area. The hospital also maintains a cardiac center, an
x-ray building, and the first animal blood bank in India, whose
blood donations come from pets of the staff. In exchange, the
animals receive free veterinary care.
But the most impressive Bombay SPCA achievements
may be those of the Animal Birth Control complex. The
staff neuter 11,000 dogs per year, so successfully implementing
the ABC program that is fast becoming ubiquitous across
India that on January 26, 1994, Bombay city officials ceased
killing street dogs. Another 63 days would pass before San
Francisco officially became the first major U.S. no-kill city.
Other U.S. cities have followed San Francisco, but
all the U.S. no-kill cities combined were killing fewer dogs at
peak than Bombay alone did: 50,000-plus as recently as 1990.
The Bombay SPCA most closely compares in focus
to the Massachusetts SPCA, whose renowned Angell
Memorial Hospital absorbs 70% of the MSPCA operational
budget. But Angell Memorial Hospital and satellites treated
77,000 animals in fiscal 1996 with a budget of $14.6 million,
recovering 84% of the cost in veterinary fees which are rarely
less than the regional norm. The Bombay SPCA treated
127,750 animals on a total budget of $263,639, recovering
35% in veterinary fees. MSPCA president Gus Thornton alone
drew total compensation of $203,000 in 1996, and at that was
only the fifth highest-paid U.S. humane society chief executive.
In addition to running the hospital, the Bombay
SPCA prosecutes 100-200 cruelty cases per month; operates an
active animal ambulance service, with a custom-built truck
designed to pick up fallen cattle and horses with minimal stress;
promotes dog, cat, cattle, and equine adoptions; supervises
animal use in screen productions, in the most active film-making
venue in the world; lobbies for improvements to humane
laws; and actively promotes humane education, both sending
personnel to address schoolrooms and hosting visits by hundreds
of children at a time.
Though resources are stretched thin at the best of
times, the Bombay SPCA in September 1993 also rounded up
$2,000 worth of donated medicine, with the help of the World
Society for the Protection of Animals and the Royal SPCA,
and dispatched 45 veterinarians and paramedics to assist the
animal victims of a calamitous earthquake that hit rural
Maharahstra state. During the next five days the team traveled
1,560 miles, visited 23 villages, vaccinated 12,500 animals,
and provided medical help to 1,125 animals.
Among U.S. humane societies, only the San
Francisco SPCA provides a comparable range of services.
None operate on a comparable scale. Even San Francisco
doesn’t have to cope with the multitude of species that the
Bombay SPCA accepts as routine.
No luxuries
But there are no luxuries at the Bombay SPCA––not
even a working computer, e-mail system, or fax for hospital
director Supriya Khumbatta. Everything needs a coat of paint,
at least. Complete resurfacing or reconstruction would be better.
By U.S. shelter standards, there is scarcely a pretense to
sterility, even in the surgical areas, not because things aren’t
cleaned many times a day but because the age of the buildings
and climate work against the best staff efforts. The lighting and
wiring fall far short of conforming to the Uniform Building
Code. Lacking cages for street dogs as they recover from neutering
surgery, the Bombay SPCA tethers them to the ceramictiled
walls of a kennel dating to 1892. A visitor unaware that
the idea is to keep them relatively still might be horrified. Yet
the dogs seem grateful enough to be there, well-fed and kindly
treated, that they often seem reluctant to be taken back to wherever
they were found.
One need only look over the walls to the stained and
half-windowless high-rises beyond, less than 30 years old, to
realize that compared to the world beyond the walls, the
Bombay SPCA is a model of efficiency, sanitation, and decorum.
The large animal areas are quite clean, by U.S. farm standards.
Though the uniforms are often old and faded from
countless washings, almost everyone on the 141-member staff
is uniformed, moving with evident espirit d’corps. The
Bombay SPCA staff saves animals lives. In India, that’s a
high-status occupation, and public respect compensates somewhat
for wages averaging $1,000 a year for humane enforcement
staff, and $859 a year for animal care staff.
Great expectations
Some Bombay SPCA structures are in overgrown
ruins, casualties of the annual monsoons and long-ago cost-cutting
that resulted in inappropriate construction and inadequate
maintenance. But they won’t remain ruined for long, if
Khumbatta realizes her renovation and expansion goals.
Born in Burma, the daughter of a career Indian army
soldier, Khumbatta came to the Bombay SPCA in 1992, soonafter
People For Animals founder Maneka Gandhi ripped the
deficiencies of Bombay animal care and control in her nationally
syndicated column. Khumbatta revitalized the Bombay
SPCA with little more than high motivation and personal energy.
Previous management had alternately looted the organization
and allowed it to collapse of neglect, eventually renting
many of the better buildings to unrelated businesses such as an
auto repair shop that occupied the current cat surgical area.
Squatters took over some of the rest of the property.
Khumbatta threw them out. The only unrelated business
remaining is a pipe vendor, who occupies a bare patch of dirt.
Khumbatta in December 1995 drew up plans for
$216,000 worth of improvements, with an eight-item priority
list expected to cost $56,000. Seven of the eight priority projects
are now done, leaving $165,000 worth of work to go.
Despite her success thus far, Khumbatta is worried
about a 1996 deficit of $14,163, with another deficit anticipated
for fiscal 1997. The deficits are trivial by the standards of
major U.S. humane societies––but due to lack of good mailing
lists, standardized addressing, and special discounts for nonprofit
organizations, there isn’t much direct mail fundraising in
India. Funds must be raised by staging special events and by
visiting high donors in person, hat in hand, to request and collect
pledges. The 1996 deficit was close to the largest amount
received from any one donor.
Outside, horns honk several times per second as
vehicles speed to beat the lights at a major three-way intersection.
Heavy traffic lasts from dawn until well after midnight.
Inside, cows, horses, burros, buffalo, and goats
serenely munch the best hay they have ever had. A dozen lorakeets
find their way in and out of their cages, but stay within
the aviary. Veterinary staff simultaneously work on half a
dozen dogs and cats. Someone walks in the front gate with a
sickly iguana, and ANIMAL PEOPLE visitor Wolf Clifton,
age 7, slips a few bills into the collection box––an amount that
might feed and shelter a cat for a day at a U.S. humane society,
but at the Bombay SPCA will feed every cat in the place.
[Assist the Bombay SPCA c/o Dr. S.S. Rao Road,
Parel, Mumbai 400-012, India. Checks may be received in
U.S. dollars.]


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