Basavi sits in a corner of her shed in Bengaluru, quietly nursing a wound on her left leg that has been wrapped in gauze. The cow was hit by a speeding car while she stood on the side of a road. When she was found by volunteers with glass shards piercing her skin and a fractured leg, they realised she was pregnant.
In Chennai, Kodai the horse gingerly lifts his right leg for his dressing to be changed. Kodai suffers from a degenerative bone disease, the most common disease to affect horses, which has painfully deformed his leg. After the leg injury affected his gait and his health, he was abandoned.
Many large domestic animals are found on city streets across India. In some cases, they have been allowed to roam freely by their owners who probably had no place to shelter them, and, in other cases, they have been abandoned after they either fell, suffered an injury or simply grew too old to bring their owners any revenue.
When adoption drives are held for abandoned animals, dogs and cats are the popular choices and there are no takers for the larger domestic animals like cows, horses and donkeys.
Upon realising that there are many larger abandoned animals that are left to die, Compassion Unlimited Plus Action (CUPA) decided to open a shelter specifically for them in Bengaluru. Located in the outskirts of the city, lies a 2-acre ground run by CUPA, the Large Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre (LARRC).
â€śIn the year 2012, we thought we needed really a space to treat these animals, which were getting injured on the roads,â€ť shares Rajini Badami, who is in-charge of LARRC.
She shares that CUPA started with animal rescues and then went on to build a shelter specifically for the care of larger abandoned animals. â€śIt came to our notice that many male calves used to be abandoned after the owners thought that they were no use to them. Many of them are either abandoned or sent to the slaughterhouse when they are as young as six or seven days old for a mere Rs 250,â€ť Rajini adds.
Currently, the shelter in Bengaluruâ€™s Kengeri has over 100 large animals - ranging from cows, bulls, buffaloes to horses and donkeys.
â€śFemale donkeys are bred in large numbers for their milk. When the little foal is born, their owners deprive the foal of its motherâ€™s milk and the milk is sold to people for Rs 250 to Rs 300 per tablespoon and the baby foals are left abandoned. The foals then suffer from dehydration and very poor health,â€ť Rajini says.
A majority of the abandoned animals at LAARC were once used for labour and transport and were either abandoned or found injured on the streets. The shelter also has many dogs which have been rescued from the shelterâ€™s vicinity when they were sick or injured.
Rehabilitation of the animals
Taking care of them at the shelter is Dr Pednekar, a retired veterinarian from Goa. Conducting his rounds, he shares that most of these animals had to be first treated for the immense amount of plastic they had eaten.
â€śThe animals which are left out in the street since they are starved, they just go on swallowing any rubbish they find on the streets. Most of the discarded food items found on streets are wrapped in plastic. Because they are so hungry, the animals just end up swallowing it. The plastic, which goes into the rumen or the stomach, remains there because it does not get digested. In some cases, we have found 50-60 kgs of plastic in the animalâ€™s stomach.â€ť
The plastic, Dr Pednekar says, hampers the digestion of the animal. In the end, the animalâ€™s stomach refuses to accept any more food and it dies, not due to starvation, but due to the waste in its stomach.
As he walks through the grounds conducting his daily checks on the animals, Dr Pednekar shares success stories of animals who were rescued in time and brought to the shelter. He walks into the shed where Basavi, the pregnant cow who was hit by the speeding car in Bengaluru, also recuperates. Malhar the horse limps forward, helped by volunteers at the shelter.
â€śMalhar was rescued from Belgaum district of Karnataka. He was found in a lake; he was probably there for about 10 to 12 days and his leg was infected. The infection had spread in his left leg and the leg was completely decayed,â€ť Dr Pednekar shares.
To avoid the infection from spreading through his body and in order to help him survive Malharâ€™s leg had to be amputated and a prosthetic leg was made for him. Dr Pednekar kneels into the mud, detaches the stem that helps him stand up, and re-applies medicine for the small wound to heal faster.
However, Dr Pednekar tells TNM that the amputation has not deterred the horseâ€™s spirits. â€śIn spite of the amputation, he is happily moving...and today we find him alive with all efforts of this team and he is happily staying with his companions here,â€ť he smiles, ruffling Malharâ€™s mane.
In Chennai, animal activist Shravan Krishnan, who has been instrumental in rescue and rehabilitation of abandoned and stray animals in the city, has recently started taking in larger animals found injured or abandoned on the roads.
â€śI started off with dogs and cats and then moved on to larger animals. So, we have a few large animals rescued,â€ť he says, as he walks around the small fenced area.
The shelter he owns currently has four large animals â€“ two horses and two calves.
Both the horses are weak. Their ribs push against their fragile and malnourished skin and both horses, named Kodai and Charlie, have deformed legs.
Shravan pats Charlie on the back. â€śThis guy is Charlie. He is a pony. He was found in Ambattur, on the main road. He has a fracture on his leg. The most common disease in horses is the degenerative bone disease and thereâ€™s nothing much you can really do, but take care of it and treat it. He (Charlie) was probably used for joyrides and once he got this injury, his owner must have left him on the road because there was no point in feeding him or taking care of him since there was no way to generate any revenue from him,â€ť Shravan says.
However, it is not easy to take care of larger animals. The dressings on Kodai and Charlieâ€™s legs need to be changed every day. At LARRC, the 100 animals need to be tended to, fed, treated and sometimes, the animals are just in need of some human company.
â€śThe duration to treat a large animal, take care of it and bringing it back to a healthy condition is a very slow process and it takes quite some time,â€ť shares Rajini. â€śSometimes it goes up to about 6-7 months of treatment.â€ť
Both Shravan and CUPA currently care for these animals with funds they receive through donations. CUPAâ€™s LARRC is built on land leased to the organisation by the Karnataka government. The organisation works with the help of volunteers and a few paid employees.
While most animals have recovered successfully at CUPA, Dr Pednekar tells TNM in a low tone that sometimes animals are found such a condition that it becomes very difficult to cure them completely. He talks of a horse who was used in marriage processions and was abandoned when she became too old to walk straight. When rescued and brought to the shelter, the horse barely managed to stand up straight.
â€śWe try to cure them the best we can. But once they are at LARRC, they are fortunate to pass whatever days they have left normally, having their food, their water, their grass and living with all companions together,â€ť Dr Pednekar shares.
Since not many are keen on adopting them, these rescued and rehabilitated larger animals will stay at the shelter till they grow old and die. During that time, the caretakers at the shelter will make sure they live a happier life than they did on the streets.