The four-acre Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre has an open-door policy

With a tray of freshly-cut tomatoes, a beaming Priyanka walks towards the monkey enclosure at the four-acre Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre in West Delhi. The monkeys, she says, love tomatoes.

“These animals have saved my life,” she adds. Having lost her sister, father and uncle to cancer, the young woman had lost the will to live till she started working with animals at the largest animal shelter-cum-hospital in Delhi a year-and-a-half ago.

The centre’s open-door policy towards injured and abandoned animals has led to it housing around 3,000 inmates.

The sprawling shelter is home to dogs, cats, chicken, peacocks, ducks, cattle, monkeys, horses, emus and even a solitary turkey. “I’m not sure how this guy (the turkey) found his way here, but he’s been here for years,” says the centre’s director, Ambika Shukla.

As she goes from enclosure to enclosure, checking on the animals, Ms. Shukla says the centre is a 24-hour facility. Thus residents and the government send abandoned animals to be housed in the complex all the time. A staff, comprising veterinarians and handlers, make sure the animals are well looked after.

The centre also operates a round-the-clock free ambulance service that responds to distress calls. “Our ambulances bring in 10 to 15 wounded animals every day and most of them stay with us forever,” says Ms. Shukla.

The centre also receives unexpected guests when the municipal authorities, police and government conduct raids and rescue animals. “One night we got a call that 45 emus had been confiscated, so we had to build an emu enclosure suddenly. We constantly have to invent space,” says Ms. Shukla.

For the past two months, the centre’s vaccination section has been operating as a home for a truckload of chicken, which had nowhere else to go. Similarly, Bandar, the monkey, has taken over the waiting area of the pet spa and the cats’ enclosure is being expanded.

The animals brought to the centre are often emaciated and injured, either in accident or intentionally.

But, Ms. Shukla says, they are not aggressive and learn to live with each other quickly. “People often ask me whether the animals bite; I ask them if they bite. Animals never attack out of prejudice or greed, they only attack in self-defence,” she says, as she puts her hand into a monkey’s cage.

“Bandar”, she says, is the name of the “lovely fellow”. The young animal was brought to the centre with injured legs that had to be amputated, but that has not hurt his spirit.

The dogs at the centre, 550 in number, usually well-behaved, occasionally “provoke” the monkeys. Since the centre gives a safe and loving environment to the animals, conflicts are rare and happy endings abound.

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