In the middle of a village somewhere in Faridabad is a sprawling 2.5-acre sanctuary for abandoned animals. It houses an assortment of clawed and four-legged creatures that no one else wants. The sanctuary All Creatures Great and Small was built in 2013, and currently houses 400 dogs, 70 cats, 60 large animals, including horses, donkeys, cows, buffalo, turkey, ducks, emus, a large parrot and even an Asian antelope. Each of these animals has a name and Anjali Gopalan is the mother to all.
There are separate sections: a large area that houses 300 dogs that are sometimes aggressive with other dogs, another section has a house where the other 100 dogs live and are free to interact with the other animals that roam free in the open space. Animal behaviour specialists warn that tying animals makes them more likely to be aggressive. Socialisation is an important aspect of this sanctuary, the animals here interact with each other and the humans around.
Anjali Gopalan set up an NGO, the Naz Foundation in 1994 to work with HIV positive people. For this, she has received many awards, including the France's Knight of the Legion of Honour. She had also been nominated and shortlisted for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize. Besides her work with HIV patients, Anjali always wanted to work with animals. Maybe she found a close parallel between the persecuted animals and the shunned kids suffering from the deadly disease.
Anjali's initial decision to volunteer for an animal shelter did not work out; she was appalled by the conditions in which these animals were kept. So, she decided to start her own shelter. Her motto was if she had to do something, she had to do it right. Thus, started the sanctuary for animals.
Each of the animals that come to the sanctuary, carry with them a terrible story of cruelty. For instance, one of the young mares had her eyes gouged out by a group of men that were fighting with her owners. Then, there are donkeys with broken legs, cows that have had to have one of their legs amputated, dogs that were abandoned because they got too old or big – some of them expensive breeds like Great Danes and Saint Bernards.
There were also emus rescued that had been mauled by dogs along the Haryana highway. Commercial Emu farming was once fashionable for their meat and eggs but the running cost probably led their owners to abandon them. The sanctuary has a vet who comes in once a week or during emergencies – like the time they operated to try and save a cow who had 35 kilos of plastic in her stomach, sadly she did not make it.
Animals often have to bear the brunt of human littering. There are plenty of animals that depend on garbage dumps for their meals, and these are full of plastic. Even when people feed cows they often throw the plastic bag right next to it. Cows and buffaloes, unlike cats and dogs, are unable to open plastic bags and will usually consume it with its contents. Shockingly, Anjali's vets have found plastic bags inside cow stomachs with razor blades that have caused internal damage.
Over 15,000 tons of plastic waste is generated just in Delhi every day of which a large percentage is uncollected and littered. This is what our precious cows eat leading to painful deaths. There is a need for better practice and awareness. Hopefully, with government's schemes like Swachh Bharat things will get better.
Most of these animals have been rescued either because they were abandoned by their owners. We don't even realise how sources of our family entertainment, such as the circus can be sources of cruel treatment to animals they keep. What about the horses, Amar, Akbar and Anthony that Anjali rescued from one such circus. There is a big male buffalo called Bhim that raises his face for kisses and a mare called Shabnam that insists on licking people and loves being pet. While many animal shelters are committed to giving the best care they can, the cost of upkeep and the preference for pedigree dogs and cats leads to overcrowding and neglect.
Every summer, Anjali regularly brings her HIV-afflicted kids to the sanctuary to spend time with the animals. The children need compassion, so do the animals, and they spend very enriching times together. The animals help the kids to get over their fear. The message of kindness is usually passed along to their parents and friends. It also helps the animals that have faced violence from humans and learn to forgive and trust people again. The sanctuary has come to embody the lesson of human-animal empathy which defies any narrative of power that humans like to exercise over the rest of the animal world.
“Children learn empathy and respect from animals,” says Anjali, “they also learn kindness. It is critical that children are brought up with animals because not only do they teach you love, they also teach you respect. In our society today, which is so stratified on class and caste lines, respect is something that all our children need to learn.... if we really want to fight the kind of discrimination that exists around us... Otherwise nothing is going to change, our only hope is our children, and animals have a lot to teach them.”
The cost to keep the sanctuary is bound to be quite high, about Rs. 50,000 is spent for anti-tick treatment just on the dogs every month. Then there is food, and all these animals are very well fed, care and love are seen in abundance in this sanctuary. There is an organic garden in the sanctuary that supplies vegetables for the children from the Naz foundation and a field where they grow fodder for the large animals. Some people do adopt the dogs and cats from the sanctuary but others, like the cows that no longer produce milk or buffaloes and donkeys that are either injured or too old for labour will probably never be adopted.
However, in this sanctuary, they are home and can live out their days in peace with others of their kind. All living creatures deserve to live with dignity, respect and love, after all, the Lord God made them all.
"Our only hope is our children, and animals have a lot to teach them", says Anjali Gopalan who runs a different kind of animal shelter.