Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that local self governing bodies would be in charge of arranging a system for feeding the dogs.

Feeding after sunset How Kerala is taking care of strays during lockdown
Coronavirus Coronavirus Saturday, March 28, 2020 - 19:47

Where could they have gone, Sreedevi wondered, when she stepped out during the first days of the COVID-19 lockdown in Thiruvananthapuram. Even before the official lockdown, the roads had begun to look empty, most people working from home and rarely stepping out for anything at all. But those were people. Where did all the dogs go, wondered Sreedevi Kartha, writer and an active member of the People For Animals (PFA), Thiruvananthapuram, charitable organisation for animal welfare.

“They would have been scared by the sudden disappearance of all the humans and the vehicles from the road and gone into hiding during the day. Or else they would have had no source of water that they otherwise used to find with people on the road, and so gone somewhere to save themselves from the heat. All this is like being trapped in a horror film for them, everything so strange and unusual, even with the occasional feeder they see come to them wearing a mask covering half their face,” Sreedevi says.

She and other members of the PFA are a little relaxed after the Friday evening press conference of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. At last the CM has acknowledged the grave situation of what would happen to the stray animals and birds with no one to take care of them. “It comes as a big relief, really,” she says.

The CM cautioned people about strays which may turn violent if they had to roam about without food for days. “All the shops have closed. Public places have come to a standstill. It is not just humans but stray dogs too that used these spaces. They are now roaming without food. If they don't get food, they may turn violent. We should take care of them.”

He said that the local self governing bodies would be given the charge of arranging a system to feed them. Sreedevi says that they’d speak with officials of the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation to work something out.

She mentions how there have always been people feeding particular areas and the strays had come to depend on this food for so long. “So when the feeding suddenly stops, they don’t know what to do unlike the street-smart dogs who’d somehow find other means to survive.”

Night feeding

Volunteers of the PFA had been going out past sunset to feed the strays which come out of their hiding by then. Most of these are young people, especially young women, taking long rides in the bikes to stop and feed whatever strays they could find on the road. This would begin after 6 in the evening and go on till well after midnight.

 “It was not easy with the policemen questioning their purpose, asking them to show the food they were taking to the strays. One of the regular feeders, a man who had been feeding the strays in the Museum compound for 20 years, had his scooter confiscated once. The PFA and IPS officer Sreelekha had to intervene to get it back. However, after watching the volunteers go on about their work for two days, the police have realised that they are indeed there for a genuine cause,” Sreedevi says.

And now, the CM’s mention of the issue would make it easier for the animal feeders to do the deed, she says. Passes would be issued to 10 to 15 feeders in every district. “The Corporation/municipal body and respective NGO facilities would work to feed different places at different times. We are also planning to have a common kitchen set up for the purpose,” Sreedevi says.

Dr Sreerag, veterinary surgeon of the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation, says that there is already a stray dog shelter in Pettah with 41 dogs in it. “We have been feeding them earlier too, from the Corporation. However, after the lockdown, it is important to feed the other strays on the road. We would tie up with organisations like the PFA in doing this. A common kitchen would be set up in Pettah and all the expenses of cooking the food would be borne by the Corporation,” Dr Sreerag says.

Not just the dogs

Animal lovers have so far been cooking rice and getting meat waste for the strays, out of their own pockets. Some would keep food out on the road. Godavari of Nanthencode keeps food out for stray dogs and also feeds the passing kites and crows which stop by. For it is not just the dogs that have suddenly been ripped off their daily source of food and water. Monkeys, CM Pinarayi Vijayan said, are also left without food, especially in certain sacred groves such as in places like Sasthamkotta, Moonniyur and Vallikaadu. He has suggested that temple authorities in these areas do something about providing food to the starved monkeys who may turn aggressive.

Sreedevi says that the strays in other districts have had little options so far. She has spoken to IPS officer Sandhya who has asked her to give a list of genuine animal feeders in every district so they could be issued passes.

“Let’s hope that this would be used as an opportunity to inculcate animal feeding as part of the community culture,” Sreedevi says.

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