Recently we got involved for the second year running in a volunteering experience at Animal Aid Unlimited of Udaipur in Rajasthan. I immediately felt at home again, greeting my human and furry friends, many of whom I remembered. This time I went with my friend Nancy who joined me on a 36-day exploration Tour of India. Nancy is a veteran dog mama with plenty of experience working in dog shelters. It is thanks to her that I made the acquaintance of this amazing project in the first place.
The shelter was founded by Erika Abrams, her partner Jim Myers and their daughter Claire from the USA, who fell in love with Udaipur when on an India trip decades back. They live on the premises and have dedicated their lives to the sick, injured and abandoned animals that the shelter continously rescues and lovingly nurses back to health whenever possible.
The beauty of their project is that it is so genuinely holistic. Every day there are new arrivals of cows, dogs and donkeys in dire need that are transported to the shelter in one of the mobile units. The animals receive immediate (and often very intensive) veterinary care there and so for many the long journey to recovery from injury, trauma and abuse begins.
For some of the animals it may be the first time to find themselves in a caring and supportive environment where they can learn to trust humans. Not all animals will recover their health and all their faculties. Some arrive with severe spinal injuries after having been hit by cars and are often partially paralized. Others may need to have a limb amputated to save them from a sure death because of the danger of gangrene. But all animals receive a chance of healing here and there are many success stories.
No matter how injured and traumatized the animals might be when they first arrive, they soon sense that they are now in a safe envrionment where they receive medical care and genuine love.
Many cows arrive in a very bad shape and often all the shelter can do for them is to alleviate their pain and distress in the lengthy dying process (providing them with euthanasia is illegal in Rajasthan). The cows get very sick from ingesting large amounts of plastic wastes from garbage heaps that accummulates in their guts and kills them eventually. Unfortunately it cannot be removed by surgical operations.
In the different dog heavens there are blind and otherwise disabled dogs being cared for by the committed staff and volunteers. The dogs receive physiotherapy and they often joyously anticipate their turns for walks in the dog wheelchairs.
Many of the permanent staff members are locals from the neighbouring villages and many of them have been through their own tragedies. The lovely partially paralized man comes to mind, who administers the medicines and food in one of the handicapped dog heavens every day. He also lovingly bathes the animals. It gives me real hope to watch such scenes.
Many of the local staff members are women who have found empowerment through their employment with Animal Aid and their perspectives in life may have changed profoundly as a result. They have such generous big hearts, often cuddling the animals to bits.
It is fantastic to see the impact of the organization on the everchanging Indian society. The awareness of the general public towards a compassionate approach to animals is positively changing and the beauty is that the rural population is becoming involved with the shelter by ringing the Animal Aid Help Hotline when they see an animal in distress.
Visitors are always welcome. They are introduced to the different areas of care and the issues that are faced at the shelter on a daily basis. But first they are sensitized in the area of farm animals where they will be greeted enthusiastically by the sheep, the chickens, the calves and the baby donkeys. They may then interact with them by feeding them, brushing them, cleaning up their poop and cuddling them.
Volunteers arrive at the shelter with as little as half a day or as much as several weeks or months of their time. The love and care they give to the animals is returned manifold to them – many volunteers find healing in their own lives through the intense interaction with our furry friends. Furthermore they find themselves integrated into a community of solidarious care givers.
You will not regret doing a spell of volunteering with Animal Aid, as you can really make a difference and you will come away greatly enriched! Prior experience or specific skills are appreciated but not a requirement. All you need is a big open heart! You may be surprised at what you discover about yourself, too. I never knew how much I was attracted to cows and donkeys before interacting closely with them at Animal Aid. Cows can be very gentle! The donkeys also melted my heart – they do not express pain when abused – many of them had been through such a lot as they had been pushed way beyond their pain threshold.
Animal Aid will also appreciate donations to cover the daily needs for food, medicines, brushes, blankets and other equipment. Presently the organization is also looking into building an animal hospital and funds are desperately needed for the purchase of land.