Shelters in Shackles: Time to implement sustainable models to care for street animals


The Noida Authority Animal Shelter (previously the Noida Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) has been a safe space for the care and rehabilitation of over 1200 abandoned, diseased or abused animals. But following a dispute between the local authority and the shelter staff over the non-payment of salaries for 3 months, the shelter struggled to provide basic services to the animals in its care. FIAPO was proud to stand by all those who stepped up to support the shelter as the problems with the local authority were eventually resolved.

Unfortunately, shelters, hospitals, hospices and sanctuaries for animals don’t just struggle because of apathetic (or sometimes manipulative) public offices. Sometimes there aren’t enough staff members; sometimes the protocols and policies are poor (or worse, absent); sometimes the people running the shelter need training; and often there are too many animals without adequate resources or manpower or space to care for them. Meanwhile, there are up to 12 million street dogs in India, and even more abandoned dairy cattle, horses, donkeys, pigs, monkeys, birds, reptiles and other animals that get caught up in conflict in our urban jungles.

While the animal care facilities in our country are burdened and struggling, the number of animals in distress continues to grow. If we are serious about providing care at any significant scale, clearly the sheltering model isn’t going to work. We need a radical shift in how we respond, toward a more sustainable method of caring for street animals.

An alternative model that stands a winning chance is that of an on-site first-aid programme. A vigorous and well-planned on-site first-aid program uses fewer resources than a shelter, is a more timely approach for treatment, and can provide aid to approximately 70% of the cases that need assistance.

Popularised in Mumbai (thanks to the work of Abodh Aras of the Welfare of Stray Dogs), run successfully in Pune, and with FIAPO-led projects in Indore and Varanasi, this model enables us to treat animals with wounds, skin ailments, maggot infections and small injuries right where they live. It enables them to heal much faster and with less risk of infection than at a shelter, and also saves considerable time and resources that can be utilized by shelters to tend to more critical cases instead. Imagine if 70% of all dogs in a shelter didn’t have to be brought there and could simply be treated on-site!

However, if you are already doing first aid of animals in your city, be warned! It is easy to miss the key ingredients that make an on-site first-aid programme a viable alternative to taking every animal to the shelter. You need to map your area (and follow it), identify and train volunteers, nurture your community, measure impact, record data, undertake follow-ups, and do all this an organized, systematic manner. Unless you follow this precise methodology, you are unlikely to reap the benefits of on-site first aid. Contact FIAPO if you’d like to learn more!

Not only is on-site first-aid great for the animals, but it is one of the strongest ways to foster a positive relationship between communities and their resident animals. When the programme is done regularly and with a method, many people in local communities will step up to join, foster dogs needing more attention, or at least make a phone call if an animal is injured. This way, we can not only provide life-saving first-aid to animals, but ensure that the community they live in cares for them itself.

Considering the instances of neglect and difficulty at many facilities, our holistic model for an alternative to shelters is certainly the need of the hour. So if you are wanting to do more for animals in your city, it’s time to re-envision your approach, from a shelter under constant pressure struggling to help animals brought to it, to a people-powered wave of change that can carry love and medicine to animals all across your city.

In solidarity,

Varda Mehrotra
Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO)

Featured image courtesy Kim Bartlett / Animal People, Inc.

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FIAPO is India's apex animal rights organization. As the collective voice of the animal rights movement in India, FIAPO is the catalyst that protects the interests and rights of animals on local and national levels - through education, research, lobbying, mobilization, networking, training and direct action. Created for the movement, by the movement, FIAPO is India’s only national federation. It has over 80 members and over 200 supporter organizations across the country. Click to see author's profile.

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