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Caring for the Strays - Shaleen Shukla

It is often said that the sole objective of any ‘kind’ act should be to help those in need. That it should only be done with the intent of bringing about a difference and working relentlessly towards it. But on a personal level, it becomes really hard to make a substantial difference that significantly improves the problem. And thus, we might be tempted to become hopeless about such a situation.

While it is true that helping animals in need is a generous act, feeling happy, calm, and peaceful within yourself from the interaction is also a great takeaway. Not only does it improve your mood and mental health, but it also helps us stay motivated and committed to the cause. And while it is true that sometimes recording such interactions is used as a tool for online fame and attention, there are also cases where the person simply wants to preserve these memories.

Over the past few months, I too have been guilty of clicking pictures of cats and dogs around my hostel. But there is one cat in particular that has caught my attention and is equally affectionate towards me (at least I hope so; you can never be sure with cats, lol), and every time I am in my room feeling down or lonely, these photos of the cat help me cheer up. Such things are primarily for my personal and emotional development instead of mere social media attention. I wholeheartedly believe that these gestures are for my own joy as much as they are about making a small difference. But that does not change the fact that every small thing we do is crucial to improving our own and others’ lives.

In India, annually, more than 10,000 street animals die due to starvation and malnutrition just in the metropolitan cities. There have been barely any studies pertaining to this, and these numbers could be figurative. The scarcity of animal rescue and shelter homes, contamination of food, and ingestion of toxic chemicals, along with the limited funding and resources, makes it very difficult to systemically manage this problem. Lack of neutering leads to population explosions in other areas as well. This creates more competition for limited resources. Thus, the importance of volunteers becomes critical in such a scenario.

To create a significant impact, one must rely on goodwill and sentiment, rather than solely depending on organisations such as PETA, which have limited operations in only affluent areas of major cities. Local grassroots organisations, such as your neighbourhood animal shelter, often generate more goodwill as they are perceived as separate from organised campaigns. While propaganda holds its significance, prioritising action is crucial, and our local grassroots organisations are well-equipped to take the lead, provided that we contribute in any way possible.

An increased population of unattended stray animals results in the spreading of diseases like beach worms, ringworms, and scabies. In some areas, stray cats have caused significant harm to the ecosystem by wiping out entire populations of birds and insects, leading to imbalances in the natural environment. Due to the population glut, such stray animals are likely to become feral and attack humans over the possessiveness of scarce resources. Faeces and other excreta from these animals can contaminate soil, water, and vegetation. So, when the problem at hand is so dire, feeding, neutering, or adopting one animal can be our own little drop in the ocean. To address this problem at its core, it is essential to seek government policies that focus on efficient and adequate waste management at a systemic level.

One important thing to remember is that these stray animals have to go through the misfortune of somehow scavenging for survival. As a result, they often explore dustbins, sewers, and waste disposal areas, which act as breeding grounds for millions of pathogens. Hence, it is advisable to prioritise proper hygiene and sanitation measures, such as wearing masks and gloves, when interacting with stray animals, ensuring the well-being of both humans and animals.

Research about human-animal interactions, though relatively new, has shown positive trends. A decrease in levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure have been observed, along with reducing loneliness, increasing feelings of social support, and boosting our mood. Dogs can keep you motivated towards physical activities due to their incredibly playful nature. A study found that dogs can help children with ADHD concentrate. A separate study revealed that engaging with guinea pigs had a calming effect on autistic children, resulting in increased tranquility. Such miracles of nature are something we truly know very little about.

There was a tale about a raccoon found trapped in a cage at a construction site. A compassionate carpenter, despite the risk of losing his job, made the compassionate choice of rescuing the raccoon along with the cage, intending to release it back into the wild. Unfortunately, this act led to his dismissal on false accusations of theft. Nonetheless, he remained steadfast in his commitment to the raccoon’s welfare and promptly returned the cage after setting the creature free. This story exemplifies how the well-being and happiness of another being can surpass personal concerns, revealing the power of compassion in action.

There are just so many poor, innocent souls suffering every day around us. They have not built this world, but they have to pay the cost of whatever downturns it takes. While individual efforts may not initiate a sweeping transformation, treating every living being with kindness, decency, and affection not only reflects our own values but also serves as a compelling example that can contribute to the change we earnestly seek, even if in small measures. Every act of kindness, whether it involves adopting a shelter animal, offering financial support to local shelters, or seeking medical care for injured animals, holds immense value and is gratefully received by those in need. Your thoughtful gestures have the power to make their day brighter and give them the care and love they deserve. Together, we can create a better world for our animal companions, one act of compassion at a time.


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