Frisky dogs greet Subha J. Rao at Asha Krishnakumar’s Thangam Memorial Trust that cares for abandoned and injured animals

“Amma Vandhuttaen Illa,” coos Asha Krishnakumar to a paralysed Labrador pup that has been brought in to the Thangam Memorial Trust hospital. She lifts him gently, cleans his sheet and carries him to the feeding table. She holds open his mouth and feeds him milk, drop by drop. That is Scooby who rushed out of his house in Udumalpet and was hit by a speeding scooter. Vets advised his owner to put him down, but he brought him to the hospital in Kungumapalayam near Palladam. (Scooby died a day later, surrounded by tearful friends).

Asha, who runs the Trust in memory of her mother Thangam, has always loved pets. As a child, there were 13 cats and three dogs at her house in Red Fields. Her mother encouraged her love for pets. Asha would also bring home any injured dog or cat she saw on the road. She would be in tears when she saw branded donkeys limping along.

Years later, when she shifted to Tirupur after marriage, she got a chance to work for animals. As executive director, Asha helped her husband in the family-run Sulochana Cotton Spinning Mills, and worked part-time for animals. But, around six years ago, when her kids old enough, she focussed on caring for abandoned animals.

The trigger to set up a hospital came about when she saw a black dog lying motionless on a dusty Tirupur road. “I could not bring myself to leave him behind. I took him home and decided to set up an institution for such dogs,” she says.

The Trust runs a concessional hospital in Tirupur and two shelters and a hospital in Kungumapalayam. At any given time, there are about 250 dogs in the shelters, looked after by five full-time doctors.

“The dogs are abandoned by owners, found injured on the roadside… they are terrified when we bring them here,” she says. Then, they calm down. About 10 boys from North India take care of the animals. She also has regular volunteers from the Netherlands who spend time at the shelter.

At least 75 dogs from in and around Tirupur, Palladam, Coimbatore and Udumalpet visit the hospital for treatment every day. “Earlier, it was free. Now, we charge Rs. 50 for consultation. But, there’s a clear rule — if someone cannot afford to pay for treatment, we don’t turn the dog away. Some diseases take a toll on the owners, financially.”

Asha gives all credit to her husband and family for letting her do what she loves most. “This is a huge financial drain, but no questions are asked,” she says. In fact, profits from the family-run retail garment store Cool Copper entirely go to the shelter and hospital. Compassion runs in the family. At their farm, the bullocks are never sold. “Invariably, they end up in the abattoir. I don’t want that,” she explains.

Asha’s trust is actively involved in programmes to vaccinate dogs against rabies and in spaying and neutering (with the Corporation). “Controlling their population is the only way forward,” she says. “Killing is not an answer. Relocating strays does not work. Another pack will take over the space,” she adds. “One dog can give birth to 12 puppies in a year. Just imagine the population explosion if they are not spayed.”

At the shelter, a smiling Asha dons a grey plastic raincoat and enters the various enclosures that hold puppies, injured dogs, ferocious dogs and infected ones kept in isolation. “There’s nothing to beat the joy of seeing an injured dog walk again,” she says. Her work is extra special, she says, thanks to dogs such as Ammu. Two years ago, Ammu fell into a chlorine bath at a dyeing unit and was burnt. She lost her fur and her vision. Today, she’s a plump bundle of joy who bounds up when she hears Asha’s voice. “She’s the star of our hospital,” Asha smiles.

The Trust, registered with the Animal Welfare Board of India, gives away pups for adoption. It spays and neuters them for free when they are seven months old. “All people need to do is love the animals. We tell people to return the dogs if they can’t maintain them. Abandoning them is a crime,” says Asha. She hopes that when people are taught to love animals, it will have a ripple effect on future generations. “That’s why we welcome volunteers.” The Trust accepts donations in kind — dog food, bed sheets, medical instruments, etc. For details, call 99521-00999.