I had already been in Costa Rica for a week…
My plan for India had changed significantly by the time I touched down in Delhi last month. I was going to do an epic tour from the north to the south. I would travel by train and see as much as I could. By the time I had finished my travels in South East Asia however, my enthusiasm for travelling for the sake of travelling had begun to wane. I wanted to do something more meaningful. I needed purpose. While I was in South East Asia I noticed a lot of animals roaming the streets, many were injured or malnourished. It hurt to see and I decided that I wanted to help animals while I travelled. Choosing a volunteer project can be difficult. These days there are so many organisations offering expensive “voluntourism” programs where you never know if what you’re doing is actually helping or if it is just a money making scheme preying on people’s good nature and their desire to do something meaningful. So, after searching the web for organisations in the countries that I knew I would be visiting I settled on Animal Aid Unlimited in Udaipur. Animal Aid doesn’t offer packages. You make your own way to the shelter and simply give your time(Of course donations are welcome too).
Animal Aid is a shelter and hospital for injured and sick street animals. It was founded in 2002 by an American family living in Udaipur. When you walk down the street anywhere in India you will see dogs, cows, goats and other animals wandering the streets. They wander out into traffic or across train lines where they will sometimes get hit, they eat things that they shouldn’t and pick up diseases because they don’t get vaccinated like our pets do. After a lot of education and campaigning Erika, Jim and Claire have managed to get the people of Udaipur to take notice of animals that are in need and to call the shelter for help when they see one suffering. Animal Aid is now known to most of the residents in the Area and there are about 50 permanent staff caring for and treating the some 400 animals at the shelter. Animal Aid Unlimited is the only shelter of its kind in the country.
I had my hotel order an auto-rickshaw to take me to Animal Aid at 8am on my first day. The receptionist was under the impression that it would take about an hour to get there. It only takes 20-30 minutes from the middle of the city depending on the driver, so I got there very early. Since I had arrived before most of the staff I was directed to the Handicap Heaven area to give the dogs some attention while I waited for the tour guide to start for the day. Another volunteer had arrived before me and was already inside. It didn’t take long before I was fighting back tears. Handicap Heaven is where the semi-paralysed dogs are kept. It was very confronting to see dogs missing limbs or with their legs bent at unnatural angles now useless bits of flesh and fur being dragged around. Most of these dogs had been in car or train accidents. I tried to be strong but it took a couple of days before I was finally able to get a hold on myself and stop pitying them. Even though they may never walk again they probably have a better life now than they would have had on the street. They are well fed and given love and attention here. On the street they would have been scavenging rubbish piles for scraps and being treated with disdain by the people. They are happier at Animal Aid.
Volunteers are generally given a tour when they first arrive at the sanctuary. Raj is the volunteer coordinator and was the one to show us around. We had already seen Handicap Heaven so we moved onto A Kennel and B Kennel. The former is where all of the new dogs are brought in and where the majority of those under treatment are housed, the latter is where the dogs with mange are kept in an effort to stop the mites from spreading. After the dogs we were led to the livestock treatment area. I’m was a bit wary of the cows since they have rather formidable looking horns but I now know that they are generally very gentle and I try to give the sickest ones attention every day. There are a few calves in care as well. I like to spend my time with the youngest ones since they need the most care. It is rare for the baby cows to survive when they have been orphaned.
Our last stop was the shelter area where the long term resident animals are housed. Lots of animals that are brought in can’t be released because of ongoing illness or an injury that would mean certain death in the streets. They live out the remainder of their lives at Animal Aid where they are happy, well fed and given the love that they need. I think they’re quite lucky in that respect.
I have been going to Animal Aid almost everyday for the last two weeks and am planning on staying for another two or three more. It is going to be so hard to leave. One day I hope that I will be able to come back again. Animal Aid is something else and it gets under your skin very quickly. I find that I have to force myself to take a day off here and there because I want to be there with the animals everyday. It is also wonderful to be around people that are like-minded and that really care. Animal Aid is a wonderful organisation and I would urge anyone that is planning to come to India to stop in Udaipur and pay them a visit.