Rescuing stray animals, Erika Abrams and her husband James Myers made Udaipur their home and have treated 90,000 animals so far, employing 80 staff.
In 1994, a couple and their daughter decided to spend their holidays in India. Little did they realise then that the trip would change not only their lives but also that of tens of thousands of stray animals. During their holiday and subsequent trips, the family discovered there was no one to help the stray animals of Udaipur. In 2000, Erika Abrams and her husband, James Myers, rented out a room where they took care of sick street dogs and by 2002, hired a vet and built a small hospital along with kennels in the city. This was the official beginning of Animal Aid Unlimited (AAU).
“All my life I have been stirred by the intelligence, curiosity and sensitivity of all animals. Their abuse, whether deliberate abuse or accidents or neglect or from ignorance, all stems from our assumption that they are here on earth only for us to use or ignore them. Rescuing animals in distress — especially those with no guardians, and which live on the street — is such an important part of awakening the compassion in people,” Abrams explained.
A full-fledged rescue center for street animals, AAU currently employs 80 staff and receive about 50-100 requests to rescue animals. The couple also formed a branch in the U.S., which serves as the fund-raising arm for the actual hospital and rescue activities in Udaipur. Currently spread over 2.5 acres, the shelter on an average day has about 600 animals in treatment or shelter. When the organisation receives calls about sick or hurt animals, the staff reach the place of the incident and try to treat the latter on the spot itself as they believe it is better to not stress the poor creatures further with a long ambulance ride followed by hospitalisation with other animals. In spite of this, they admit about 20 patients every day. Since its establishment, AAU has treated at least 90,000 animals.
With the ethos of AAU being vegan, Abrams, Myers and their daughter Claire are also strong advocates of staying away from animals for their own good. “We’ve told ourselves stories about how the cow wants to give people milk, the dog wants to herd sheep, the sheep want to give wool, the chicken wants to lay eggs, the fish don’t mind being killed. None of it is true. They suffer from our use.”
The couple’s prior experience of working in development and fund-raising arenas as planners, writers and advisers to non-profit organisations placed them in a position to convey the mission’s aim to the public. To create awareness and compassion among people, AAU has a community outreach programme along with a strong social media presence. Their work can be found on YouTube and Facebook. Talking about the community outreach programme, Abrams said AAU uses classroom presentations, videos, hospital tours, phone conversations and such points of contact with the public to encourage people to become more involved in the care of animals.
Most calls the shelter receives are about dogs. All dogs are given a rabies injection on arrival and also vaccinated against canine distemper, parvo virus, etc. The organisation also sterilises at least eight dogs a day. They also have about 70 dogs handicapped with hind leg paralysis and have been given permanent sanctuary as they require soft, sandy floors because they drag their paralysed legs and have limited mobility.
Apart from dogs, the sanctuary also has donkeys that have been abused during work and have become lame; cows and bulls with limb damage and cannot forage for food. They also have 20 orphaned bulls that are young or have reached maturity but their release would mean imminent death due to illegal slaughter.
According to Abrams, one of the biggest problems faced by cows and bulls is that “of impacted plastic in the stomach (rumens). It hastens their deaths. When lying down for simple fracture the plastic causes immediate gastro-intestinal crisis and many cows and bulls die within a couple of days of being down, from bloat.”
AAU also has at least 40 birds such as pigeons and parrots that have been injured by kite strings, nets protecting fruit trees, human maiming, etc.
Every animal’s day at the sanctuary differs according to the needs and medical conditions. If admitted for fractures, the animal’s movement is generally restricted until it is healed. In case of non-severe wounds, they are allowed to roam free. The bigger animals such as cows and buffaloes have a bigger area while for the dogs it is divided into areas based on their conditions such as mange and skin disease ward, trauma treatment centre, puppy center, etc.
“Most of the animals here do not spend their days confined to kennels; if they need to be enclosed, they are walked and stimulated with human companionship,” added Abrams. “Boredom causes stress and, in addition to being a depressing state of mind, stress slows healing so we make strong efforts with every animal to ensure that she is not bored. This is particularly important for any animal confined when needing her movement to be restricted.”
Here are some AAU-approved methods to help the animals you find in your neighbourhood:
· Place water bowls outside your house in the hot season
· Provide shelter for wandering animals if you can, during the rainy season and hot season
· Don’t keep caged birds
· Teach children never to throw stones at animals
· Don’t tie up your dog
· Visit your local shelters and support them
· Don’t eat or use animals or animal products