The dogs of Darjeeling
Wednesday 30 November 2016 - 3
In 2002, One Voice financed the construction of the Darjeeling Animal Centre in Western Bengal, India, allowing thousands of dogs and cats to be given medical care and to be sterilised. In 2016, the adventure goes on!
The town of Darjeeling is found nestled in a valley at the foothills of the Himalayas, with tea plantations covering the hills. Originally a British colonial's resort, who came every summer to refresh themselves from the Calcutta heatwaves, Darjeeling has since become an Indian town like the others: touristic, polluted, crowded and populated by the bolting shadows of the outcasts of all outcasts, stray dogs.
These poor individuals, covered in dust, worn down by parasites, and exhausted from hunger, live in constant fear of being kicked or having stones thrown at them. We see them scuttling around, heads down, between the shop stalls, shooed away into traffic jams where many of them finish under a lorry's wheels. The people throwing stones at them do it mostly in fear. In India, rabies is still a real risk: 18,000 people die of it each year.
In order to reduce the spread of the disease, the Darjeeling municipality regularly launch street dog eradication campaigns, whose bite is the main transmitter of the virus.
In Jaipur, Christine Townend and her husband Jeremy have already set up an 'ABC' programme (Animal Birth Control). They were prepared to invest in Darjeeling as in the neighbouring town of Kalimpong, but how would they find the money? Who would finance the project? Because of a lack of answers to these questions, the project remained dormant. However, in 2002, after having obtained commitment from the town, One Voice offered all of the funds necessary to buy the land and to construct Darjeeling Animal Shelter, without looking back. The ABC programmes could start!
Today, the first thing we notice when we arrive in the town, is that there are less stray dogs, they look happier, and are in better health. The veterinary centre, still financed by One Voice, and fully active since 2008, has been looking after them ever since. Thousands of dogs, and more recently, cats, have been looked after in the refuge; treated and sterilised. Some are released, others stay in the centre, and others are adopted. Going further afield, the Darjeeling Animal Centre team has expanded its remit, with a veterinary van that visits the villages to treat animals. Vaccination camps are also installed in isolated hamlets that are only accessible by foot.
Gradually, more individuals are getting involved, volunteers are presenting themselves at the refuge, people are adopting cats, and mentalities are changing. People's points of view are shifting for these animals that were once seen as untouchable. They have seen the centre personnel catch them gently, give them medical care, sterilise them and let them go once they are back in good health. On top of this of course is the essential work undertaken by the centre, creating awareness in a population who mistreat dogs out of fear of rabies, and persecute cats out of superstition.
To support this wonderful project, which will surely be a useful pilot for many other Asian and African towns, One Voice is looking for sponsors for Darjeeling's 'stars'. The oldest one, Dolly, an adorable dog, was found abandoned on the return from a mission. Forced to scrounge in rubbish bins to feed herself, she was sadly no stranger to human abuse. Thanks to the refuge team, she quickly regained her strength and high spirits with her best friend Nuri, a stocky little dog who she loves playing with. Dolly has not been adopted but everyone at the refuge loves her: she is welcome wherever she goes, even if she is quite imposing! Dolly loves inspecting visitors and the dogs that they bring with them. It is without doubt a job that she has allocated to herself and she executes it with great seriousness.
Alongside One Voice, please help Dolly, Cricket, Soumil, Pikachi and all of the other residents in the Darjeeling refuge! They are counting on you!