By Alokparna Sengupta
In India right now, the latest Covid-19 surge is having an overwhelming impact on the country’s people and infrastructure. Our supporters from around the world have reached out to express their concern for our team at Humane Society International/India.
Alokparna Sengupta, India managing director, and her team have been working tirelessly to save animals left behind and going hungry because of the pandemic, and despite immense challenges, they continue to invent new ways to engage their communities to make the world a better place for animals. To give a snapshot of the remarkable work the team is doing, I asked Alokparna to share her experiences.
When India first went into lockdown a little over a year ago, we knew we had to prepare our teams mentally and emotionally to keep advocating for animals in the context of unprecedented restrictions. It didn’t take long for the lockdown to cause a dire animal welfare crisis that unfolded in front of us: street dogs who were starving.
For years, helping homeless animals has been a priority for us. Humane Society International has changed the lives of many street dogs and cats across the world by giving them food and veterinary care, while managing their populations through spay and neuter programs. In India, it is common to see dogs wandering the streets, picking through trash for food. Before the pandemic, we already had our work cut out for us, caring for this large population of homeless dogs.
But when the pandemic hit, things got worse for these dogs. As restaurants, shops and markets shuttered, the daily supply of food scraps the dogs depended upon suddenly dried up. Some companion animals were abandoned as their families feared that the virus would transmit from pets to people. One heart-breaking story surfaced in the media showing a father and son dropping off their pet dog at a dump yard; as they drove away, the dog was seen chasing their vehicle in distress.
We knew we had to step up our efforts in a way we’d never done before. This feat was only possible because of our extremely devoted teams, their work made possible by a generous donation from Mars. Our companion animal team fed dogs across three states, and we also funded partner organizations in their efforts to feed dogs across ten more states throughout India.
This meant that we were able to feed 18,000 street dogs every day for six weeks.
The lockdown also presented us with serious cases of animal abandonment and neglect. The crisis spread to shuttered pet shops with animals left inside as blazing summer temperatures soared. We worked with the government of India to designate veterinary services as essential, so that veterinarians were able to treat animals in need wherever they might be found. We worked with local authorities to rescue abandoned animals and charge pet shops with cruelty. We worked with media channels, influencers and government agencies to spread awareness against misinformation about how Covid-19 spreads.
Just as the lockdown was slowly coming to an end, two east Indian states were hit with one of the worst cyclones the country has seen in over 20 years.
Cyclone Amphan affected thousands of families and animals. But thanks to the guidance and support of the state animal husbandry department, district officials, and the public’s support, we were able to help more than 200 families impacted by the storm care for their animals.
Despite the pandemic’s challenges, we were able to:
- Launch our new mobile animal clinic.
- Advance our human-wildlife conflict mitigation initiatives: For our snakebite mitigation work, we distributed over 400 pairs of protective boots to farmers most vulnerable to poisonous snakebites, and we partnered with the Liana Trust to train more than 50 doctors to identify and treat snakebites. We also collared five elephants to track their movements.
- Carry on with our campaign to end cruel and obsolete animal tests, which could save hundreds of thousands of animals per year.
- Extend our efforts to advocate for the end of battery cages in India’s factory farms.
- Expand our programs to promote plant-based eating, launching the Humane Entrepreneurship Program, India’s first ever incubation program for plant-based businesses.
2021 started on a high note with India inching closer to flattening the curve. We continued our spay and neuter work, completing more than 1,500 surgeries and treating more than 100 animals through our mobile animal clinic.
Then the new wave of Covid-19 came. All our hopeful progress over the past year has now come to a rapid halt.
Over the past month, billions of Indians including individuals on our staff and their family members are trying to maintain their physical and mental health in the most desperate circumstances. For the sake of our colleagues and to prevent community transmission, we decided to suspend our on-ground operations. While our in-person activities have been put on hold, the online tools available to us have made the world a smaller place, and we are able to bring people together across the globe to talk about how to help animals in India. Through these tools, we are engaging our communities and stakeholders through virtual meetings, trainings and workshops. Thankfully, we can use this time to focus on valuable online programs like our Farm Animal Leadership Program, which allows us to use online tools to bring together allies in India’s farm animal protection movement so they can access resources and learn from the foremost global leadership in farm animal protection. Innovations like this let us to continue doing good for animals, despite unprecedented setbacks.
The crisis India faces is exceptional, and we feel shocked to the point of numbness. At the same time, we are extremely lucky to have the support of our friends and colleagues, near and far. What has remained unchanged is our devotion to the animal protection movement, irrespective of circumstances, and to standing tall against injustice and cruelty. We are blessed to know that we have your care and support that allows us to carry on for the animals.