Meet the Volunteers-Turned-Messiahs for Starving Stray Animals
It’s an evening in March 2020. As the sun sets down on the city of Bhubaneswar, the stillness of night has an eerie feeling to it. The Government-enforced lockdown due to COVID-19 has rendered the roads empty as most people are staying indoors, trying to get a knack of this ‘new normal’. However, Purabi Patra, a woman in her 30s, is busy packing some eatables and loading it in an old-van turned ambulance. For the next two hours, she and her friends will be circling almost the entire stretch of Bhubaneswar to feed the stray animals.
Unlike most people, Purabi’s lockdown routine has not changed much – in fact, she now has an added responsibility. “Earlier, my work was mostly centred around the shelter and rescuing animals, but now I also have to take care of the starving stray animals,” she says.
A former assistant professor in a reputed college in Delhi, Purabi quit the job five years ago and returned to her home state. Initially, she worked for an animal rights group in Bhubaneswar but soon walked out when her good work found no takers. A year later, she got her own NGO ‘Animal Welfare Trust Ekamra’ or ‘AWTE’ registered and started working independently. Since then, the AWTE shelter has been home to hundreds of abandoned or rescued dogs and cats.
Feeding Stray Animals
When the lockdown began in March, Purabi realised that the stray animals of non-residential localities might go hungry due to the closure of restaurants and local eateries. Without wasting much time, she along with her team of about six to eight volunteers decided to take up a daily routine to feed stray dogs and cattle every night.
“We divided ourselves into two groups – one which would feed starving animals in the Baramunda stretch and the other would take the Jaydev Vihar road till Shikarchandi square. We distributed food at specific spots, especially the industrial zones which were completely shut down and the dogs and cattle had less chance of getting food there,” Purabi says.
One of the firsts to start the initiative, the group provided any dry food they could manage to purchase – from biscuits to puffed rice and chicken for dogs and fruits for cattle.
“The first few days of lockdown were difficult. There were hardly any shops open. Even if we did find a few shops, the shopkeepers refused to give us food in large quantities, thinking that we were trying to hoard it. So, it was a challenge for us. Thankfully, we managed to arrange and ensured that the animals were fed,” says Priyaranjan Panda, a volunteer with AWTE, and a graphic designer by profession.
Leading by Example
The group catered to almost a thousand animals daily. Their good work was soon replicated by other animal welfare groups, after gaining prominence in social media.
“We are just a bunch of few individuals trying to do our bit for animal welfare. But, logistically and financially, it was not possible for us to feed the stray dogs in the whole city. So, a part of the drive was also to create awareness among people so that they can chip in and start doing the same in their area. Gladly, we managed to inspire some of them,” says Priyaranjan.
As the country begins the unlocking phase, the AWTE family is now looking beyond feeding the stray dogs. During the lockdown, many people had abandoned their pets, fearing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The AWTE family led by Purabi is trying their best to stop animal cruelty in the name of COVID-19 pandemic. They feel their job is far from over.
“In the last couple of months, we have come across several animal cruelty cases in which we had to take help from the police. There is a greater need to create awareness about animal rights now. So lockdown or not, our work is far from over,” says Purabi.