Three bow-wows to a two-year-old initiative in a Chennai neighbourhood

Happy Paws Mogappair which celebrated its second anniversary recently illustrates what can be achieved if resident-volunteers sedulously apply themselves to monitoring and caring for the canine population in their midst

October 16, 2021 10:53 pm | Updated October 18, 2021 12:35 pm IST

Some members of Happy Paws Mogappair. Photo: special arrangement 

Some members of Happy Paws Mogappair. Photo: special arrangement 

The descriptor “resident-volunteers” rarely goes with animal rescues. Loosely-formed animal welfare groups usually operate without a fixed pincode through members scattered across geographies. In that sense, Happy Paws Mogappair attempted something that seemed both endearingly and dauntingly left-field. It sought to make animal welfare the workaday concern of a neighbourhood and its residents, and it seems to have succeeded in this objective to a good extent.

The group employs “neighbourhood animal welfare” as an umbrella term denoting a “compassionate community” whose heart skips a beat when an animal in distress hobbles into sight — four-legged or feathered or with any other qualifiers.

However, in practical everyday terms, it is usually about watching out for neighbourhood dogs the way one would for one’s human dependants. Drilling down to the bedrock of details, it is about resident-volunteers sedulously caring for diseased and injured dogs by ensuring their treatment, and attending to the sterilisation and vaccination of dogs found in their streets.

“In Mogappair, if someone sees an animal in distress, they should know that if they inform Happy Paws Mogappair, it will be taken care of. We want the model to be followed in other neighbourhoods,” says Bharath Surya, a management professional employed with a start-up, and a resident-volunteer with Happy Paws Mogappair outside of 9to5.

The tone may come across as a tad self-congratulatory, but on closer scrutiny, does sound justified. On October 10, when it felicitated its volunteers on its second anniversary and ran through the milestones, the growth was strikingly evident — “from three to four volunteers at the start line to a 167-volunteer force now”, with many of the members on first-name familiarity with each other.

“There are many volunteer groups, a majority of which depend on group calls for rescues across Chennai and they would be busy. We thought we would cover this area entirely. All the volunteers are from Mogappair and surrounding areas. We have helped around 900 animals in the last two years. That so many animals have been affected in this area was an eye-opener for us. That is one thing we have cracked. If not for this group, 70 p.c. of the cases would have gone unheard,” shares Bharath, adding that he cannot emphasise the effectiveness of neighbourhood-centric dog care group.

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One advantage group is that diseases in dogs are caught early before they ballon into unmanageable proportions.

“A maggot wound can cause the dog to be infested with 300 to 400 worms, which slowly eat into the flesh and the dog would die. Since we have so many resident-volunteers around in the neighbourhood who have been educated about maggot wounds, they notice it when it is just the size of a small nick and with doctor’s guidance, they do the minor treatment required. We either do a spray or ointment on the ground, thereby preventing major issues from happening. That is one impact we have created.”

Last Sunday, when the volunteers met for a quiet second-anniversary fete, each of them was provided with a first-aid kit, one consisting of tic powder and ointment and spray meant for treating open wounds in community dogs.

Another impact is how resident-volunteers have achieved sterilisation and anti-rabies vaccination of community dogs.

“We have sterilisations done privately with the help of a few vet clinics that offer us discounts. Residents of each street have the dogs in their neck of the woods sterilised privately — either they can afford it, or manage to find a sponsor locally. These are dogs on the street that they feed and which are in turn friendly with them. Our volunteers help these residents by catching and transporting the dogs to the clinic. There are two to three clinics in Anna Nagar that help us with discounts,” says Bharath. “We can do the dog-catching because some of the volunteers have been trained and are adept at it. If it is a very difficult case, we enlist the service of a dog catcher. We regularly conduct training programmes on how to muzzle a friendly dog and take it to the clinic for any treatment it may require.”

While volunteering may be the strong backbone of initiatives of this kind, they would still need to be fleshed out with resources.

“The volunteers in the group contribute every month whatever is within their ability to offer — ₹100, ₹200, ₹500 and so on. Even school children make a contribution — an eighth standard student contributes ₹200 every month, collecting the amount. There is one person who gives ₹5,000 a month, sending it on the first day. We pay off the veterinary doctors for treating the dogs, but usually with some pending amount. The vets on board are understanding of the delays, particularly Dr. Suresh of Pet Plaza in Koyambedu, who is extremely supportive of what we do. They offer discounts to ease the process for us. For sterilisation and treatment of the community dogs that require them to be transported, we use our cars and bikes. However, if we have a difficult case on our hands and the dog is ferocious, we turn to ‘auto annas’ in the neighbourhood who have been helping us. Where they charge ₹400, they would charge us just ₹300,” says Bharath.

Sponsors often spring up on a case-by-case basis.

“Last week, we rescued a dog with a huge lump on its back that had to be removed — you cannot imagine how big it was. The treatment bill came to ₹4,400 and a volunteer shared the details in a WhatsApp group, following which their friend living abroad met the expense. Whenever we see people on the road feeding a dog, we go and talk to them, and that is how we have expanded as a volunteer group. The new entrants will bring others into the fold. All these people are dog lovers who were struggling individually, often unable to find help for any injured or diseased dog. Seeing what a united force of resident-volunteers can achieve, they are only too glad to support the group.”

With the core team of volunteers consisting largely of young millennials — a generation uniquely gifted to think visually — Happy Paws Mogappair puts out picture stories and videos of rescues and treatments of dogs, on its social media pages, which include Facebook and Instagram.

“Every month, we make a video that details what was

achieved as it ran its course. So, we ask people to share it with friends and family.”

These videos sometimes serve as an inspiration for them to throw their weight behind the initiative.

“Documentation is among our key strengths. Accounts are maintained, rescue and treatment records are diligently kept. Where the dog was found, who informed us, the treatment that was given to it, whether it survived or died; and if it survived, its current status are all documented . This way, we are able to measure the impact,” remarks Bharath.

Among the striking features of this volunteering group is how they try to carve an identity for themselves, which include getting themselves a rescuer uniform.

Bharath believes Happy Paws Mogappair could be a template for animal-loving residents of other neighbourhoods appreciate the reach that can be achieved by having a volunteering group in place.

“We have started talking to dog-loving people in Ambattur and trying to bring them together as one unit. An ABC programme for dogs driven by resident-volunteers is the best bet in covering an area in its entirety. However, on the downside, there are vet and dog-catcher fees to be paid. The Corporation has the resources and its sterilisations are done free,” observes Bharath, suggesting that a synergy between the civic body and residents can maximise the positives.

Over the two years, Happy Paws Mogappair has faced the challenge of educating many residents — who are not particularly dog-friendly — about the role a healthy, vaccinated, sterilised community dog can play in the neighbourhood.

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