The 3rd stop on the Fall Into Adventure outreach/research trip was Animal Aid Unlimited in Udaipur, Rajathan (India). It is an animal hospital and sanctuary for unowned street animals and home to more than 100 dogs, cows, bulls, donkeys, pigs, 2 tortoises, the occasional cat and 1 monkey named, Raju. I spent almost 3 full weeks here and it was the experience that changed me the most. So much happened in my time there that it’s taken me a while to process it all…
I first visited Animal Aid in 2010 on a tour of Rajasthan. I only spent one day volunteering but I promised that I would come back again soon and stay for longer. I’m sure I surprised everyone (including myself) when I emailed Erika a few months ago letting her know of my plans to return. I expressed interest in working with children while I was there as well and we shot ideas back and forth through email for weeks. The ideas began to solidify and we decided on doing educational outreach with local school children. We hit roadblocks on the way to creating the program because most adults didn’t understand what we were doing and why, but we made it work.
On the first day I met with Trudy who is the Volunteer Coordinator. We discussed what volunteers do, took a tour, met the animals and discussed the new program. She explained to me that it might be difficult to get children to Animal Aid and that we’d do our best to get kids for the program. (Adults, officials, principles and teachers don’t understand why educational outreach with animals is important. Most of it has nothing to do with kids at all and is actually quite political.) We decided that it would be best for the first 2 or 3 days that I just learn the ropes and get to the know the animals. And as Trudy put it, ‘pick out my dogs’. But they ended up picking me.
After a few days, I figured out the rhythm of the place. You can make your volunteer experience specialized to what you want to do. I talked to some of the other long term volunteers and realized that it is unique to each person. There are different areas of the hospital:
- Upper Puppy Town ~ Where the puppies live! All of them with injuries that are currently being treated until healthy enough for release.
- Lower Puppy Town ~ The healthier puppies are taken here during the day hours so they can play outside of the kennels.
- Paralyzed ~ Where our permanent paralyzed residents live. The newer paralyzed dogs are usually in upper puppy town.
- Mange ~ Where the mange dogs live. There’s also a separate mange puppy town for the little ones.
- A Kennel ~ Where the dogs with the most severe injuries live.
- Cattle ~ Cattle has 2 sections, the smaller rest/treatment areas and the big open area where the healthy animals run free.
There are also the ‘shelter dogs’ (permanent residents, the official pets) which run around in their territories. One of the first rules I learned was to be EXTRA CAREFUL when opening and going through gates. Though all the dogs are friendly to people, they don’t all like each other. Accidentally letting a dog through a gate could be an injury (or worse) waiting to happen. There’s a lot of quibbling between the dogs as they are all 100% street dogs and incredibly territorial. Keeping everyone safe, human and animal, is the number 1 priority.
After just a few days I became very comfortable with the animals and found my own schedule. My first stop was (almost) always paralyzed. Saying hi to everyone, shifting around Jimmy Supa Fly so he was comfy and then sitting with Karl for a while. I’d usually sing (quite badly) to him. It was our time. Then I usually popped over to the mange puppy area to make sure their water was fresh and for some kisses and cuddles, then off to cattle to say hello to the herd. Checking on the severely injured (like Jigger) and petting the healthy ones. I would settle into lower puppy town towards the end of the day after all my other work was done.
There were always animals on the way in and on their way out on a daily basis. Once an animal has recovered from their injuries they are released back into the neighborhood in which they were found. Pets are a rare thing in India. Most people don’t have animals as companions. If they have an animal (usually cows, buffalo, goats and donkeys) it is usually a working animal. Animal Aid works with street animals and since adoptions are rare, the animals are released back to their neighborhoods. The only animals that are not released are the paralyzed dogs, amputee/handicapped animals of any kind, donkeys and pigs.
Figuring out what the program with the children was going to be was a difficult task. We faced resistance from officials and started to mold it into an educational experience for one child from a local school every day. The program started a few days into my 1st week. The goal is to educate the younger generation on the beauty of animals and hope one day they will grow up to make India a better place for all creatures. Animal Aid sets a great example of compassion and kindness for street animals but the major change will come only by educating the future generations. Most kids (and adults) are afraid. We found that dogs and donkeys were the most feared by kids. (I’m most afraid of the abundance of black cobras…) We introduced them to the animals and talked about what being kind to all creatures meant to them.
Each day at noon (after chai time) Trudy would go pick up a child from the local school and we were off! I was given full freedom to create the program as I wished. Which was awesome! I love love LOVED being able to design something so amazing! Each child was a whole new experience tailored to their likes, dislikes, knowledge and fears. It was a truly heart and mind opening experience each time. I loved every child we got! And proved that at our most basic nature, we are kind and loving beings. I may have to post another blog just on this program because it was the beginning of something truly magical!
Something incredibly fun happened in my 2nd week; on a particularly crazy busy day, Trudy asked me if I could lead some of the tours as she was going to be doing other things. Heck yeah! Being a former Disney Performer and Stage Manager, I’m pretty good at being in front of an audience and leading tour groups. I had a ball! I loved every second of it! I kept being asked to do it after that day. Every time I got to lead a tour it was like someone had given me a birthday present! Everyone joked that I just needed to move to Udaipur and become the permanent Tour Leader. (I don’t really think they were joking though…) I also got to help Trudy with Volunteer Coordinator duties and help the new volunteers find their way.
By the end of my stay I felt like I had really found my place at Animal Aid. Days were normally quite busy for all of us. Especially on days when I was the only volunteer, which were too many. On average there were usually only about 3 of us. The few days we had more than 4 volunteers were glorious! Having the extra bodies makes all the difference! Everything gets done and the energy is high! Those were my favorite days. The work also tends to be emotionally difficult and having people to talk to really helps. We need a group therapy session at the end of each day. There were a few days that were especially hard. Emergency situations that I had never found myself in before. Life or death stuff… (That could be an entire post unto itself as well.) But there were also days that were just a dream.
I have a REALLY AWESOME follow up to how we can all get involved in helping Animal Aid without leaving the house, but I’m still working on the details. I will unveil my grand plan soon. But it’s all part of a bigger mission: to create awareness for Animal Aid and get MORE volunteers. As amazing as their staff is, they need bodies. For a day, a week, or a month. I want to take on the official role of coordinating volunteers and volunteer trips for them. I have so much information and knowledge after this, I would be happy to be the person that points the way.
This is just a teeny tiny bit of my 3 weeks of work and there is SO MUCH MORE but I will have to save some for future posts. I made some amazing friends and fell in love over and over with all the animals. I miss everyone every day; the staff, volunteers and my animals. I wonder how everyone is doing. I especially miss Trudy, Kamla and Dhapu since I worked with them the most.
I’m already planning my return trip and if anyone is interested in going please, email me! Whether with me or on your own, I can tell you everything and organize your trip down to the last detail! How to get there, where to stay, transportation to and from the hospital, what to expect, where to eat, etc., This is exactly what Love Infinitely Project is here for. I’ll even help you fundraise to pay for your trip. Eventually, LIP will be able to pay for partial and full trips to places like Animal Aid. In the meantime, we can help guide the way!
Visit Animal Aid’s website here: http://www.animalaidunlimited.org
The photo gallery from my time at Animal Aid is here: http://fallintoadventure.shutterfly.com/pictures/708