Sandesh Raju says there’s only room for one passion in his life. And though it’s mostly a thankless job, “I know I am rewarded when I see their eyes without fear and pain,” he says.
The eyes that Sandesh is looking into belong to dozens of horses and ponies in Bengaluru who are getting a chance at a better life, thanks to this man.
Like ‘Survivor’, the first pony that Sandesh’s NGO Samabhava rescued in 2010. When Sandesh and his team first found the pony, he had been electrocuted and was near death’s door. But with their tender care, he pulled through and earned himself the inspiring name, Survivor.
Survivor, the electrocuted pony, was unable to walk even 10 steps without collapsing in 2010
Survivor, healthy and happy today
Since then, 37-year-old Sandesh has rescued 53 old, abandoned and injured equines (members of the horse family like horses, ponies, mules and donkeys) in Bengaluru.
Born and brought up in Bengaluru, Sandesh began working with NGOs conducting animal rescues when he was 19 years old. When he moved to Hyderabad, where he completed his Masters in French from the English and Foreign Languages University, he served as the secretary of Blue Cross there. So, even as he returned to Bengaluru in 2006 to take up a job as a translator at a corporate firm, the desire to return to his true calling remained strong.
Finally, after four years in an office, he knew the time had come. He quit and pumped all of his savings into Samabhava.
“There’s already awareness and critical mass when it comes to the rescue and rehabilitation of strays like dogs and cats, and even wildlife. So, I zeroed in on working animals (beasts of burden). Between working cattle, and working equines, I chose to work with the latter,” Sandesh says.
Sandesh with a rescue
For the first year-and-a-half after starting his NGO, Sandesh focused most of his efforts on building awareness among animal owners in Bengaluru. Each week, he would visit various parts of Bengaluru, like KR market, Goripalya, Banashankari, Infantry road, and Chamarajpet, together with a veterinarian, and advise caretakers and owners on issues like quality of feed, grooming, importance of the right horseshoe and vaccination.
“We thought we would be jobless after two years, because these owners and caretakers will become aware enough about how to take proper care of these animals. But we weren’t that successful. I’d say only 7-8% of our efforts paid off,” Sandesh narrates.
Starting with Survivor in August 2010, Sandesh and his team have had to rescue many equines found abandoned or injured in different parts of the city. As their reputation grew, however, they’ve also had owners approach them to take care of animals that are unable to work and can’t be cared for.
“Owners would sometimes come and tell me that the animal has served them well, and they now they want it to have ‘chutti’ (holiday),” Sandesh says.
In some cases, where the animals they were called in to help were too severely injured to survive – when they had been run over by vehicles, for instance – the team has also had to euthanise animals.
Once Samabhava takes in an animal, they don’t look to pamper them, but help them along the path to recovery so that they can continue to live a healthy, natural life.
“We don’t intervene a lot. You won’t see us using products like fancy shampoos. But we do intervene in some cases. For instance, few of our equines are undergoing therapy to correct their balance issues. We have a hoof trimmer and farrier, who ensures that they wear the right horseshoes and clips their hooves when needed,” Sandesh explains.
The story of Sultan, who was found abandoned in Banashankari and suffers from 'Founders' hoof disease
Despite having had some difficult cases to deal with, Sandesh says that owners and caretakers in Bengaluru are generally kinder and more sensitive than in many other places. “They generally care for the animal even when it becomes old and is unable to work.”
When cases of neglect do arise, he adds, he uses the help of local leaders who can convince people to give up the animal. “Since I don’t have the resources to go about it legally, we use a combination of community influence and counselling in such cases,” he says.
Currently, Samabhava operates four shelters in the city. The main shelter at Palace Grounds houses disabled and old animals, which are most in need of care. The central location of the shelter allows the Samabhava team to regularly visit and treat them.
Another shelter at Kengeri Satellite town houses 14 more equines. The owners of two private farmhouses, one off Magadi Road and another in Kanakpura, have let Samabhava house another five animals there. In all, Samabhava cares for 33 animals on a permanent basis.
Sandesh says that despite all the community respect and public support Samabhava has received, keeping the NGO running without scrimping on the quality of care provided to the animals is an uphill task.
From 2012 to mid-2014, Sandesh went back to full-time work as a translator to finance the NGO. For the next two years, Sandesh kept it afloat by selling off some real estate. But in the last few months, he has struggled to continue the rescue work despite freelancing to raise finances.
“Sometimes I wonder how I am going to pay for the week’s load of grass. I have taken a few lakhs worth of personal loans because I do not want to cut corners when it comes to the animals’ quality of life,” Sandesh says.
It’s not been an entirely single-handed battle, Sandesh asserts. Starting with public donations that covered about 35% of the NGO’s monthly costs, Samabhava has managed to raise funds to cover more than half their costs. But the gap that remains is still quite massive. Last month for instance, the NGO received donations amounting to Rs 1,10,000. But their total expenses came up to around Rs 2,40,000.
With the mounting costs, says Sandesh, Samabhava has been unable to help more animals in need. Indeed, the last rescue they carried out was in September last year. “We just don’t have the financial and logistical capacity to take in more equines now, without reducing the standard of living for all of them,” he says.
Sandesh says that while he is attached to the animals Samabhava currently looks after, he would be happy to let someone who has the means, environment and dedication, take some animals to give them a better life than what they have now. “It would leave me free to help more needy animals with those resources,” he says.