Devang Vyas, Entrepreneur, Engineer, MBA |
Using crowd-funding, Shah leads a network of animal-lovers who spend Rs 2 lakh every month on feeding strays in Cuffe Parade, and Rs 5 lakh annually for sterilisation
“If you feed, then you become a mother. Then, you can't stop at just feeding, you take care of them in sickness and when they're injured.”
For 72-year-old Smita Shah, the stray animals in and around her residence in Cuffe Parade are almost her children. Since 2018, Shah and a small network of friends and other concerned citizens have managed to get more than 300 animals, cats and dogs, sterilised and medicated.
A trained classical dancer, Shah, had always been an animal lover. After the death of her second pet, a dog named Pinky, her family decided not to adopt any more pets.
Missing Pinky, however, Shah said she began to see Pinky in all the animals she would encounter near her building, until one evening she found a puppy with an incredible resemblance to Pinky right outside her own building gate.
That puppy, Brownie, is now their ‘building pet’, cared for and adored by several families together.
“I had formed a group of active like minded pet-parents in 2016, when my first dog Snowy needed a blood transfusion. I now decided to expand the group to include animal lovers and anyone who wanted to help the stray dogs,” she said. The members of the group each deposited Rs 1,000 with Shah, who used that money to feed the stray dogs in the Cuffe Parade area and subsidise medical care for strays anywhere.
In 2019, Shah suffered a personal tragedy, losing her husband to pancreatic cancer. The animals around her building then became her solace, and her work became a mission.
Shah now crowdfunds and spends close to Rs 2 lakh per month in feeding the stray animals, and another Rs 5 lakh annually on sterilisation campaigns for the stray animals.
She first reached out to schools and residential societies in the area with a campaign for awareness and fund-raising drive, and then decided to engage with the slums around this part of the city to also include dog-lovers from there in her campaigns. “We started taking help from the youth in these areas in feeding, trapping injured animals for medical consultations, and other activities,” she said.
The programme slowly grew into a very organised and systematic effort to make sure no stray animal in Cuffe Parade is without a collar, and that every single one is fed. The feeders are part-time employees who receive a small payment.
When, during the pandemic, the feeders were unable to complete their tasks, Shah took it upon herself to feed the strays herself. She maintains daily updates of every single stray animal fed. Shah also maintains extremely thorough and careful accounts that any donor can look at.
“I want to expand the feeding initiative across the entire city. Paucity of funds is the biggest hurdle in this work. I want to give it all I have and I will. These animals are my source of joy and strength,” she said.
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