Day 82: Off to India to help dogs
Is India as bad as the rest of Asia for animal welfare?
Anyone with a passing interest in fluffy things probably knows that they don’t do so well in certain parts of Asia – unless we are talking fluffy dice, in which case those are abused all over Britain.
In China there’s the dog meat trade, in Pakistan the bear baiting, in the street markets of Vietnam its not fun to be a frog with your skin still on…and, trust me on this, you don’t want to be a cute donkey in Nepal carrying bricks from the kilns. Heavy shit.
But not many people associate India with animal cruelty.India is where people let cows control the traffic and Ghandi himself was studiously vegetarian.
A few days ago I said to Ann I wanted to go to China. ‘That’s where the real misery happens’
Ann, who tends to be the brains behind this project whilst I have the legs (and wobbling knees) pointed out that I didn’t speak Chinese.
She also noted that I’m 6’4”, very white and with my long lens around my neck I probably wouldn’t blend in too well as an undercover animal rights investigator in a chinese street market. (‘Excuse me, chinaman, please show me the way to the dog meat, I work for the BBC…’)
Instead she suggested India pointing out a charity called ‘ARK – Animal Rescue Kerala’ that she had found on the internet.
‘No, it’s too nice in India,’ I said.
I had spent six months in India for my gap year aged 19 and hadn’t seen too much animal abuse. Kerala as far as I remembered was green and pleasant. But more importantly, India was where I had my first depression, where I swore I would never return, associating those heavy monsoon rains with downpours in my mind.
‘But look…’ She showed me the site for ARK and some background research she’d done about Kerala and dogs.
India has gone to the dogs
Kerala wasn’t as pretty as the tourist branding wanted you to believe.
We saw videos of dogs being rounded up and killed with cyanide as a form of population control (watch here and here if you must). Those dogs that were lucky enough to escape the killings suffered misery on the streets from malnutrition, maggot infested wounds or disease. On top of this there were mulitple cases of pedigrees being inbred to the point of disfigurment and pet dogs being tied up to trees 24/7 without shelter or adequate water. India, it seemed, didn’t always love its dogs.
Avis Lyons – super woman, 71 years old.
But more than this I was drawn to the woman who ran the place.
Avis Lyons is a retired Brit who it so happens comes from a part of East London only a few streets away from where we live near London Fields. She visited Kerala on holiday just over ten years ago and within half an hour of landing she found a severely wounded dog in a ditch. She left the dog in someone’s care whilst she went to get some help but was appalled that there was absolutely nowhere to take it and no one willing to help. When she came back the dog had been let loose. She never found it again.
A very dangerous thing
She then did a very dangerous thing indeed – she recklessly and totally followed her heart. She returned back to the UK, gathered her things and came back to India to set up an animal rescue centre with limited savings and minimal experience
Now aged 71, the last 10 years have been both victorious and debilitatingly tough. She runs a centre with six staff and has sterilised over 4000 dogs and looks after over 100 permanently, she has won awards for her good work and saved lives, but the costs have been high: she has had cancer, runs the place with minimal cash and constant stress and has had ongoing legal battles with a local communist government that has a reputation for corruption and incompetence. She was on bail for three years. She still works seven days a week and she lives alone but for her numerous dogs.
I rang her up straight away.
Her voice was familiarly East-End but somewhat faint. ‘I don’t know what to do with all the dogs, I really don’t.’ she said. ‘But someone has to do something, if I don’t then who will? I really need to come back to England soon. I can’t stay here forever’’
Could I come out and….er…help?
‘If you want to, of course.’
Avis was a perfect example of putting ones heart before all else. Her story was both inspiring but also exhausting. I asked myself a few questions:
– What could she teach me?
– How to follow my heart (or maybe why I shouldn’t)?
– Would I do better with helping dogs in India than in Greece or would the suffering I encountered be too much to handle?
– And most of all…would I be able to make a difference?
I booked the flight. Screw China, India here I come.