Discovering Help In Suffering

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2004:

Discovering Help In Suffering
by Ursula Wilby

In late February and early March 2004 I visited India.
Arriving in Delhi I was surprised to see dogs everywhere. Some were
in rather bad shape with mange. But others looked healthy and–at
least from a distance–well fed.
Our first stop after Delhi was Jaipur. I got up at the crack
of dawn, camera ready, and positioned myself in a nearby square,
watching the town wake up. It was fascinating to observe the dogs
and their behaviour toward each other and all the other animals
competing for scraps of food thrown out on huge rubbish piles. The
first thing I noticed was that the dogs, without exception, seemed
happy. Although they did not rush up to me, it was quite obvious
that they were treated well, as they never avoided human contact
I was puzzled by the number of dogs. While there were more
than we normally see in northern European cities, there still seemed
to be too few, considering that there apparently was no human
interference with mating.
I decided to ask at the hotel how the dog population was kept
at a reasonable level. The answer I got was that if there were too
many dogs, the government would round them up and take them away.

“To be killed,” I filled in, but was told instead that the
dogs were caught and taken to a wonderful place in the country,
where they were fed and looked after for the rest of their lives.
I am no novice when it comes to dogs. I am fully aware of
dogs being euthanized for different reasons. I have visited animal
shelters in Sweden and I have watched dogs being killed for food in
China. No way was I going to fall for the “happy home in the
country” story.
“I would love to visit a place like that,” I told the staff
at the hotel, and asked if this could be arranged.
Surprisingly enough, a visit appeared to be quite possible,
and the staff set about finding the telephone number to what I, in
my cynical western way, secretly called “dogs paradise”. After
quite a lot of searching and an equally long drive, I arrived at Help
In Suffering.
This was not the “happy home in the country” that the staff
at the hotel had understood it to be, but it was certainly not far
from it. I was guided through the premises by Bhavna Jain, the
animal care manager of the shelter, and later on met Christine
Townend, the managing trustee, who patiently explained the details
of the Animal Birth Control program conducted by the shelter.
Help In Suffering offers special programs to help horses,
camels, elephants and cows. But no animal is turned away. Two
kites with broken wings were among the hospital patients while I was
Street dogs are caught, taken to the shelter, vaccinated
against rabies, neutered, and treated for any illnesses they may
have. They are tattooed in one ear and get a small but visible mark
in the other ear. This ensures that the dog is not caught twice,
and signifies at a glance that the dog is healthy, carrying no risk
of transmitting rabies. Dogs who look well fed are released back in
their old territory.
The shelter tries to find homes for puppies, which according
to Bhavna Jain is not all that difficult. These dogs are guaranteed
free veterinary help and anti-rabies vaccination for the rest of
their lives.
As Bhavna Jain explained, “Indians are not cruel. Most
wrongdoing toward dogs stems from fear of rabies.” With that danger
removed, the dogs of Jaipur stand a far greater chance of being
I noticed the fantastic awareness of traffic displayed by the
street dogs. As Christine Townend explained to me, only the
smartest dogs survive. Formerly, dogs and other animals hit by cars
but not killed outright, were left to suffer for days, as many
Hindus do not believe in killing animals and no one took
responsibility for putting an animal out of its misery. Help In
Suffering now operates four animal ambulances to respond to such
Shelters in Sweden are well-run, clean, modern, and
efficient, but are still depressing reminders of human beings not
caring enough.
I had none of those feelings in Jaipur. All of the dogs at
Help In Suffering were happy and healthy and their tails wagged all
the time. Dogs seemed to be everywhere, casually occupying the
seats set out for humans or just strolling through the grounds,
which looked more like a pleasant garden than anything else. I am
convinced that the work of Help In Suffering has done much to make
Jaipur pleasant to visit for all dog-lovers.
Not all animal shelters in India create such a positive
impression. At the end of the trip, again in Delhi, I visited
another shelter and was horrified by the conditions.
Life, for both humans and animals, can be difficult in
India, and the struggle of street animals to find food was quite
obvious. Yet many street dogs have a far fuller life than dogs in
wealthier nations. If I were a dog, I would prefer to take my
chances in the streets of Jaipur, rather than be cooped up alone in
someone’s home, only to be taken for an uninspiring walk twice a
day–or worse, be chained in a back yard for most of my life.
Perhaps “dogs paradise” was not that wrong a name for Help In
Suffering after all.

[Ursula Wilby, an illustrator for the Swedish newspaper Sydsvenska
Dagbladet, recently profiled Help In Suffering for the journal of
the Swedish Kennel Club.]

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