Angels of Mumbai: This ‘messiah’ at Masjid Bunder gives shelter to strays

What started as a quest to find a lost dog has now turned into a movement to protect stray animals falling prey to road accidents, and grappling with illnesses.

Jayesh Shah, 54, had decided to bring down the curtain on a distinguished two-decade air-conditioning business when an incident changed his life. A bitch gave birth to two puppies at his godown in Masjid Bunder and made it their home in 2013. Shah, who initially cared for them, was now wary about their presence at his workplace. He started to keep the puppies out for a while when their mother, one fine day, abandoned them. Few days later, harassment by passers-by and other street dogs led to one of them going missing.

Shah then went on a frantic search, even announcing an award of Rs 3,000 for anyone who would help find the pup. Posters were put up, and local residents were pressed into service, but to no avail. The incident, however, ignited a passion in Shah to provide shelter to those ignored.

In South Mumbai, where space comes at a heavy price, Shah decided to convert his godown premises into a hospital. And, after overcoming hurdles, in January 2016, when the country celebrated Republic Day, the strays had a new home. “I made 40 cages for stray dogs, but soon started getting more cats,” said Shah. “At one time, we sheltered around 100 cats and kittens.”

A similar godown premise in his neighbourhood fetches Rs 65,000 rent a month. But Shah doesn’t have any qualms about missing out on the money. “Even during the lockdown, when many animal welfare organisations were grappling to stay afloat, we decided to tender to injured and ill animals even in containment zones,” he says.

Shah now boasts of running a night animal ambulance in the city, and has enhanced his prospects in his shelter by providing special care to animals with spinal injuries. “Many dogs are victims of runovers and suffer from immense pain and trauma. We accept such dogs, and with care and physiotherapy, about half of them are able to stabilise,” says Shah.

The pandemic has spelt doom, but Shah says their enthusiasm still persists. “We take injured animals to veterinary doctors and take a line of treatment from them. The healing is then done at the animal shelter,” he says.

With such a shelter also comes a list of problems. “I have been trying to do ventilation work, but no one is ready to come as they complain of stench or fear of dogs. The cats urinate and vomit which makes it difficult, but we try our best,” he said.

Shah says that the godown rent was part of his “retirement planning,” but is now proud of the fact that he is a caregiver to many stray animals. When asked what next? Shah is quick to react, “We have now started getting injured birds at the shelter.”

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