In October 2014, the story of a dog who had fallen into a pool of hot tar in India went viral. The heart-wrenching images of the poor pup made us all realize just how dangerous life can be for stray and feral dogs all over the world, and just how much help they need.
Thankfully for the dog, rescue workers from Animal Aid Unlimited were able to save him, nurse him back to health, and return him shortly after to the family who was looking after the young street dog.
Animal Aid Unlimited now has a staff of 50, but it started very humbly back in 2002, thanks to Erika Abrams, an American who had moved to Udaipur, India, with her husband and young daughter in the 1990s.
Abrams realized upon moving to India that there was no one caring for the street animals who were often sick or injured. Private vets were not willing to treat ownerless animals, and the vets often had no experience with dogs as they were primarily concerned with treating dairy cows. Animal-lover Abrams wanted to help, and so in 2002 she hired a vet, built some kennels and an operating theater in the rural area of India, and set out to create awareness among the local population that a rescue service now existed. She says that when mobile phones became popular in India, seemingly overnight, she was inundated with requests for help.
Since its official creation in 2002, Animal Aid Unlimited has treated more than 55,000 of Udaipur’s street animals, and Abrams says that the rescue hotline gets about 20 calls per day. And, while the rescue organization will treat any species of animal in need, at any given time it is caring for approximately 250 dogs — with 150 safe in permanent sanctuary because of issues such as blindness and paralysis, often due to car accidents.
“Most of the cases are adult dogs with traumatic injuries,” Abrams explains. “But we also see liver damage and other problems linked to poor hygiene and nutrition. These street dogs are eating garbage, high-carb diets, and drinking dirty water polluted by chemicals and household detergents, which run into open troughs.” Many of the dogs suffer from varying degrees of mange and other fungal infections.
She goes on to say that Animal Aid Unlimited only treats native dogs from the streets and not purebred house pets, except in the case of abuse, and treats all animals free of charge. In many cases, local families feed dogs who hang around their property and think of the dog as theirs, even though the dogs live largely as strays. When dogs are treated at Animal Aid Unlimited, they will often be returned to the neighborhood from which they came, and Abrams says that her staff try to make good contact with the people who bring the dogs in or inform them of the dogs’ problems, in order to ensure that someone will watch over the well-being of the dogs after their return.
To help reduce the overpopulation of street animals, Animal Aid Unlimited sterilizes all dogs prior to release and vaccinates against rabies. Members of the staff regularly go out into the local communities to administer rabies vaccinations and talk to people about how to form loving relationships with their street dogs.
“In Udaipur, we are striving to create a stable population including older dogs who have been inoculated against rabies,” Abrams says. “To do this, 70 percent of the female dogs need to be spayed within a given dog community in a single season. We estimate the number of street dogs in Udaipur to be 8,000 to 10,000. To spay one dog costs about $25.”
At the shelter, the dogs are able to move about safely and freely in large park-like spaces and socialize in a pack setting. Currently, the staff-to-animal ratio is about one to 20, according to Abrams. “We also have permanent caregivers whose only job is loving, stimulating, playing, brushing, walking, and nurturing dogs,” she says.
Animal Aid Unlimited is not the only no-kill shelter in India, as Abrams explains it is against the law in India to kill dogs for lack of space in shelters, and that “the law prohibiting killing dogs for any reason (unless they pose a danger) is upheld by every animal organization in India.” But, in most Indian states, there are only a couple of shelters, and in some there are none at all. Abrams gives the example of Rajasthan, with its of population 70 million people and three shelters, each with a maximum capacity of only 200 dogs.
Thanks to more than a decade of rescue and rehabilitation efforts, Animal Aid Unlimited has made a big impact on the health and well-being of Udaipur’s animals.
“Because of Animal Aid, Udaipur has the highest per capita number of animal protectors — people who call on us to rescue injured or ill street animals — of any city in India,” Abrams proudly notes.
Abrams always encourages people to come to the visitor-friendly shelter and see the effects that proper health care, rehabilitation, and love can have on the animals. She wants to continue transforming local attitudes toward dogs and to expand the rescue’s work and facilities to other Indian cities.
“Indians have not had the sentimental attachment to dogs that has characterized the West. But this is changing, and Animal Aid makes it easy for people to see living examples of gentleness and care for dogs.”
To learn more about Animal Aid Unlimited and ways to help, please check out the Animal Aid Unlimited website, Facebook page, and Youtube channel, which features many other short rescue videos like this one about another puppy who recently fell into a tar pit (Don’t worry! It has a happy ending):
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About Crystal Gibson: A child-sized Canadian expat in France who is fluent in French and sarcasm. Owned by a neurotic Doxie mix and a needy Sphynx cat. An aspiring writer and pet photographer with a love of coffee and distaste for French administration, she can be found as @PinchMom over on Twitter.