Be human, love animals

Alisha Shinde
Saturday, 4 May 2019

With Be Kind to Animals Week (May 5 to 11) being observed by the American Humane organisation, Alisha Shinde talks to animal lovers and organisations to know how people can stand up for animal rights

Going by the rate at which animal abuse is happening in India, building an inclusive and sensitive world has become a necessity in the recent times. What is sad is that these cases hardly get the conversation started about the need to be kind to animals. 

While it is absolutely okay to not like the two/four-legged or winged creatures inhabiting our planet, it is no way justifiable to intentionally hurt them. 

Just like humans, animals too deserve the right to live safely. And it’s not only the responsibility of a handful of humans to ensure that; it’s binding on each and every member of society to respect their right and more importantly, learn to peacefully coexist with them. 

With the United States observing Be Kind to Animals Week from May 5-11, we talk to animal lovers and activists to know how we can build a society which is safer for all animals to live. 

‘Be Kind to Animals’ was started by the American Humane organisation which is challenging people to commit to protecting and improving the lives of millions of animals.

WHY DO ANIMALS NEED RIGHTS?
The concept of ‘rights’ is often clouded and convoluted by legal, social and ethical arguments; of questions of “do they” and “don’t they”, but rarely of “could we” or “should we”,” says Neha Panchamiya, founder and president, RESQ, Pune. She explains that it is when the latter occurs — moments in which an individual has dispelled all prejudice — that ‘rights’ are best defined. 

In the case of animal rights, for those who see animals for their intrinsic goodness rather than for the extrinsic purpose, the concept is as clear as day. “Such individuals will tell you that animals are living, breathing sentient beings and thus have as much right to live and thrive as humans do. Just as the notion of ‘human rights’ is inherent to all human beings, regardless of sex, race, or creed — animals rights is a valid concept too. Animals, like us, are capable of joy, pain, and love. They, too, are motivated by a primal desire to live, and should thus be granted — at the very least — the freedom to their own existence,” Panchamiya emphasises. 

She clarifies that ‘rights’ equate to freedom and existence, and in a burgeoning urban ecosystem such as ours, it is imperative that animals are accepted as sentient beings that deserve the right to exist — and if education and awareness efforts are carried out properly among people, to peacefully co-exist. 

“So, the question shouldn’t be “why” do animals need rights, to begin with. Rather, it should be “how” can one work to exercise those rights,” says Panchamiya.

BUILDING A DIGITAL COMMUNITY
Technology is probably the best thing that has happened to mankind. It has not only got people together, but it has also helped in building a digital community that wants to work together towards a cause that is close to their hearts,” says Nishant Patel, founder of Let It Wag, a not for profit tech-based startup. 

Patel explains that a digital community now makes it possible for animal lovers as well as those interested in helping animals, to connect freely with each other. “With digital aid, one can help an animal in distress simply by clicking a picture and sharing it with one’s contacts via Facebook, WhatsApp or any other social media platform so that people can help the animal in need,” says Patel.   

He points out that technology plays an important role in bringing people together to have fun and also to contribute to a cause. “It all boils down to using technology with a bit of responsibility. Since it is fast and reaches almost everyone in the community, imagine the impact it can create while helping an animal in need?” he asks.

Technology and social media can be used effectively to rescue, help and even foster animals, he feels.“The best part is one does not even have to be an animal lover, any person can help and do their bit for the innocent animals,” he points out.

BE A VOLUNTEER
Shrikant Raskar, who runs Navi Mumbai Animal Rescue, an individual group of volunteers, says that there are many NGOs coming up in cities, to genuinely help animals in need. “But help is not reaching too many animals due to lack of volunteers in cities,” says Raskar. He further adds that when they see an animal in need, people usually contact an NGOs by sending them a WhatsApp text and that’s it. 

“There have been cases when NGOs were not able to reach because of limited resources at their end. The people who report the case are not aware of this situation because they usually report a case and leave, they do not take a follow up on the same,” he says pointing out that volunteering can actually curb this problem. 

Another factor, he points out, is that although many people are actually coming forward to become volunteers because they are animal lovers and have some experience of handling them, when it comes injured creatures, some of them back out since animals could become ferocious and it might be difficult to handle them in that case. Training is extremely important and so is knowledge about first aid that can be provided to the animal before professional help reaches the spot,” says Raskar. 

“One can simply volunteer to become feeders, visit shelter homes, take part in awareness drives and also spend time with animals because it is probably the best feeling ever when animals want to cuddle you and be cuddled,” the animal lover says.

CREATING AWARENESS
It’s not that people don’t want to help animals, they do want to, but they are harassed by housing societies or other people who are scared of animals,” says Utpal Khot of Being the Real Human organisation. 

Khot says that it is clearly mentioned in the Constitution of India that animals have rights that can be exercised by human beings on their behalf. “We have an Animal Welfare Committee in India, but when a crime regarding an animal is reported, the first thing  people, and even police, often say is that a case cannot be reported because there are no arrangements for that,” Khot says. Such behaviour discourages people from reporting cases of animal abuse as they think it is not going to help the animal in any way and instead will make them land in a soup, he adds.

“There is a manual made available by the Animal Welfare Association of India that has mentioned all the laws and acts regarding animal welfare. It will benefit anyone who really wants to help an animal,” says Khot adding that the laws are in the best interest of animals which makes it extremely important for people to know them. 

“We have come across cases where people were harassed by housing societies because apparently, they have ‘by-laws’ that suggest people cannot feed strays or cannot have dogs at home. This is actually not allowed according to the manual, but people get scared of what may follow and stop feeding animals. It is extremely important for people to become aware of not only their own rights but also those of animals,” says Khot. 

If people cannot protect themselves, how will they protect animals, asks the activist.

BE PASSIONATE
Priya Grover, Trustee with In Defense of Animals India (IDA),  a non profit grassroot level animal protection organisation, dedicated to establishing and defending the rights of all non-human living creatures, says that each and every animal in the ecosystem is important. “A dog, a cat or even a snake, is equally important to maintain the balance in the ecosystem, but since we humans have always had things our way and done what pleases us, even if that means hurting the animals.”

Grover says as intellectual animals, human beings are responsible for all the animals around. “Like humans, animals too feel pain and express when they are in distress but they cannot help themselves, so we need to help them,” she says. 

According to her, people are born with an ability to be passionate and kind. But they need to be taught about kindness towards animals from a young age. “We have noticed that children born in families of animal lovers are more passionate and kind towards animals than the ones who are taught to be scared of them from a young age,” Grover says and adds, “We understand that not everyone is an animal lover, some are even scared of them. But that does not give anyone the right to mistreat and abuse them.” 

On a positive note, she points out that people these days have been sensitised and are readily taking action to help community animals. 

“This is happening because the level of awareness among people is slowly and steadily increasing and even though they are not primarily animal lovers, they take utmost care to at least not hurt any beasts,” she says, with a feeling of relief.

WHAT YOU CAN DO AT INDIVIDUAL LEVEL?
Samar Animal Association (SAA), which was formed by Ishika Jain, Neha Parmar and Sejal Gupta in Pune, is an individual organisation named after their adopted dog Samar. SAA helps in spreading the basic idea and purpose of connecting teenagers around Pune who have an infatuation for dogs. 

They have created a circle of willing and helpful teenagers and have been successful in finding homes for seven puppies and two kittens in a matter of a few months. “Our organisation basically works at an individual level. And if we can do it, so can anyone,” says Gupta adding that their motto is to encourage people to do something for their furry friends simply by adopting them or putting out a vessel full of water for animals and birds in hot weather. 

Gupta says that taking care of community dogs is rather easy and anyone can easily do it. 

HERE ARE A FEW TIPS THAT SAA SHARES WITH US
- Be kind to all animals
- Put out a bowl of water
- Become a feeder
- Volunteer at your local shelter and animal welfare drives
- Adopt, don’t buy
- Help foster 
- Donate, not only money but time 
- Clean up trash that might harm animals in your locality
- Report cases of animal abuse 
- Support fellow animal lovers and extend your help to anyone who needs it

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