In dogged pursuit of compassion...
A stray dog left snug in a dog coat in Delhi’s biting cold; jute bags laid carefully under the trees where most dogs huddle in the summer heat; water-filled pots kept in the vicinity – such sights were becoming all too familiar in Sector 10 of Dwarka. ‘Could this be a story’ – I thought to myself, as I sauntered down the familiar lanes on a chilly winter afternoon in Dwarka. And what a wonderful story it was.
This messiah of the street dog goes by the name Swati Chawla. She is a resident of Saksham Apartments of Dwarka, Sector 10. An astrologer by profession, Swati has been carrying on with her crusade for decades despite of insurmountable odds. Rejected by her own community for her kindness, she finds unconditional acceptance among those she decided to feed, clothe and love.
Swati fondly remembers, “Though I began my work in the late Eighties’, the journey started in my childhood when I would take care of my neighbour’s dog and a few street dogs. I, together with my brother and sister, would feed the puppies and birds. Sometimes, birds would mistakenly enter homes and injure themselves while trying to escape the moving ceiling fans. We would tend to them as well as other birds that fell ill owing to the summer heat. So that sense of happiness that comes from saving life, and not just human life, stayed. And it grew stronger each day.”
Cherry, a Pomeranian, was Swati’s first pet, and it was through him that she began to understand and observe dogs more closely. And she slowly got herself involved with strays. She began taking them in. Not just content with feeding and clothing, Swati has successfully sterilized and vaccinated almost all the dogs of Sectors 17 and 10. She feeds nearly 100 dogs in the area every day. The meals are cooked at home. The strays are provided with clean water to drink from. In winters, they are provided with blankets and woollen coverings. “We pick up injured dogs and take them to the hospital for treatment. We also provide medicines to ailing dogs, and take them to the doctor if required. Sometimes, food and medicines are given away to people or NGOs that work for the dogs or animals,” she explains. She is helped in her endeavours by her caretaker Satya.
Swati has also built a small shelter for animals on a small plot of land she owns. Right now, the shelter houses 12 dogs, but there are plans to accommodate more strays. Though it was an uphill ride for Swati, she never once hesitated, and her family stayed with her in this difficult journey. She says, “With the money I earned I started taking care of more and more strays, and my husband understood my passion and never once left my side.”
No good work is easily established and Swati is no exception. Her community found it difficult to accept her work. And the reactions were almost always unfortunate. Sometimes the water-filled pots that she left for the dogs were broken; sometimes, the jute bags were burnt; sometimes, the injured dogs were beaten mercilessly. Some threatened to kill the dogs, and she had to take police protection. She recounts, “My experience became more and more bitter. Some of my neighbours and the managing committee of our society strongly objected to my feeding of the strays. But thankfully, the situation was brought under control with police intervention. The police informed them about the prevailing animal laws in India and the Delhi High court judgments.”
She makes a simple plea to people around her – children should be taught to appreciate life – human and otherwise -- at an early age. They should be taught, as early as possible, compassion towards animals. Dog lovers should be encouraged to adopt strays and other abandoned dogs. Simple donations like jute gunny bags, old newspapers, broken utensils, inexpensive medicines can go a long way in reducing pressure on the already over-burdened animal shelters.