I first met Sarthak Dogra and his sister Surbhi back in 2017.
They were both teenagers and wanted to collect funds from their family and neighbors to support Dharamsala Animal Rescue (DAR). I remember being completely blown away by this gesture.
After years of working in the community, and struggling to get local donations, here was the youth of the town coming to the rescue! It gave me and the DAR team such hope for the future of stray dogs and other animals.
Cut to today, Sarthak and his family have formed a local community feeder group called, We Help The Strays. The purpose is to keep homeless dogs, cows, and even some people from starving during COVID 19 lockdown in India. The lockdown shut off all local food sources – shops, hotels, restaurants, and businesses were closed – meaning there were no handouts or scraps of waste available since everyone was home.
“We Help the Strays” has decided to continue the project even as lockdown is lifted, and I could not be happier about this. “We Help the Strays” has become a true local partner of DAR. I wanted to learn more about the why and the how behind the project, so I decided to ask Sarthak a few questions. Here are excerpts from that conversation:
Deb: How old were you when you first realized you loved street dogs and they needed your care.
Sarthak: It was in the year 2013 when I was 15, when we gave shelter to a female stray dog who used to roam around in our locality. We started feeding her with the leftover food from our house. Strangely before all this, my family wasn’t really fond of animals in general but that female stray dog instilled in us love and compassion for the strays.
Soon enough, she gave birth to 8 pups in our house and that’s when we decided to find forever homes for each one of them. We slowly realized that it’s not easy to find homes for the stray pups because people prefer buying specific breeds rather than adopting – despite there being no difference in how loving all of them are. But somehow we managed to get 7 of them adopted and ended up adopting one of them ourselves.
We then wanted to get the mom sterilized. Luckily, we met DAR’s vet at the time, Dr. Nyzil Massey, who told us what DAR was and what amazing work they do each day to save so many stray lives.
We decided as a family that we needed to help save as many stray lives as possible. In the next 3-4 years we sheltered over 25 stray pups and eventually found them their forever homes.
Deb: That is amazing! What did your neighbors and other family members think about this?
Sarthak: Most people were against this and considered our work a nuisance, but there were a few people willing to help. Unfortunately, many people living around our place have tried all possible ways to keep us away from helping the strays. In the year 2018, a meeting was called for the entire neighbourhood against our work. We were threatened that an FIR (police complaint) would be lodged against us if we didn’t stop. This incident left us more determined than ever.
We also sought help from Dharamshala Animal Rescue, who assured us that they’ll always stand by our side in such situations and that what we were doing wasn’t violating any law. We have faced a lot of backlash from our neighbours that still continues till this day, but this has never stopped us and we’re sure this won’t stop anyone who’s motivated towards this cause.
Deb: It can be so discouraging, but at DAR we definitely have seen change happen. Have you noticed attitudes changing over time?
Sarthak: Throughout our time spent working for this cause, we have realized that the majority of the community doesn’t really consider the health and well-being of stray animals as their responsibility. Mostly, they consider strays a menace. But, throughout the years we have seen more and more people coming forward and trying to do their part. Most of the positive shift in the mindsets of people is because of the work that organisations like Dharamsala Animal Rescue have been doing for so many years. They’re the driving force behind what we have been doing. We really hope that more people come forward and take the responsibility to help these strays.
Deb: That is so nice of you to say. What made you start “We Help the Strays?”
Sarthak: We have always been feeding the stray animals in and around our place. But, due to the sudden outbreak of Covid-19 and the lockdown being imposed in India, we witnessed so many stray animals starving because their main source of food was gone: eateries, hotels, restaurants etc. They had absolutely no food to sustain themselves. Seeing this motivated us to do what we had already been doing for several years but on a much larger scale. My family and a few friends decided to come together. We started covering around 8 areas in and around Dharamsala, feeding over 150+ stray animals every day.
Our main focus is to improve the current state of the stray animals. The strays already go through so much, be it car accidents, diseases, animal cruelty, starvation and much more. We firmly believe that hunger should be the last reason for any living creature to die. Our message to the community is that we as humans, need to realize that these animals are dependent on us for their survival and that we as humans owe them little love and compassion.
Deb: AMAZING. Truly. I am so happy to hear that you have decided to continue this work even as the country starts opening back up. It is such a huge help to DAR. What was your reasoning behind continuing the mass food program? I am sure the pups are the happiest!
Sarthak: We decided to continue feeding the strays of Dharamshala because throughout the past 3 months, we have witnessed that hunger has been a major problem faced by the strays even before the outbreak of corona. Even though many restrictions have been removed, we now have started considering it our responsibility. These animals have become dependent on us.
Also by feeding them regularly, we are able to develop a bond with them which in turn makes it easier to catch them for DAR’s sterilization and rabies vaccination campaigns, as well as rescue program to treat maggot and skin infections. This helps us to control the massive stray population and protect them from various kinds of diseases.
What’s been a great surprise is that people who’ve never interacted with a dog before have joined us on feeding drives and seen how affectionate these animals can be if given a little food and love. This improves the human-animal relations and helps in shifting the mindset of the people in a positive direction.Together we can work for a better and kinder society.
We Help the Strays is run on local community donations, the family’s income, and some DAR contributions. If you would like to contribute to help them continue this very important work, you can follow them on Instagram or donate HERE.
All Images courtesy of We Help The Strays.
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About the author
Deb Jarrett, at age 40, decided her life needed some shaking up. In fact, she needed to rattle her brains a bit. She was done climbing the corporate ladder, paying mortgages and internet dating—so she quit her job and moved to India to help animals. Not to be confused with Elizabeth Gilbert, at this point in her life, Deb had done just about all of the self discovery she so desired on therapist couches, yoga retreats, and spiritual workshops. In fact, she Eats very carefully, due to the risk of bacteria and parasites. She no longer Prays after experiencing the harsh reality of the developing world on a day-to-day basis and believes compassionate action is the answer. However, she did find Love with an Indian man. She started Dharamsala Animal Rescue in 2008 after her first trip to India.