It is another Monday in Srinagar, Kashmir, and for Dawood Mohammad and his wife Mariya Mushtaq, it means yet another day of calls from people who have spotted an injured animal.
Being one of the only few rescue centres in the valley, Dawood says that the work at Animal Rescue Kashmir is never-ending but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
It all started in 2016 when he returned to Srinagar from London, where he was working and studying and noticed the prevalence of instances of animal cruelty in the valley. This animal lover would often rescue dogs in the neighbourhood that were hurt by helping them get medical aid or even distributing food.
With time, his area of focus expanded. Today, not just people in the vicinity but also those across the valley reach out to Dawood when they spot an animal that needs help.
And he always obliges.
Mariya and Dawood run Animal Rescue Kashmir, a venture that was started in 2018, that aims to alleviate the sorry plight of animals in the Kashmir Valley.
A need to help wounded animals
Thinking back to the time he first began helping animals, Dawood says he observed that the population of stray dogs was the highest.
“I often noticed that these dogs were infected with mange. It was a common sight, albeit pitiful,” says Dawood, adding that he noticed this on almost every street. Not having much of a medical background himself, he decided to consult a veterinarian and read up about this condition on the internet.
“Based on the advice of the vet, I would give these stray dogs the medicines that would help their discomfort,” he says.
Recounting the first-ever rescue he did, he says it was of a paralysed pup near his home. “The pup’s hind leg wasn’t okay and on closer observation, I discovered that its body was inflicted by multiple wounds and these had maggots in them.”
Dawood immediately rushed the pup to the vet and following the visit, kept the animal with him for a year and a half.
“This incident changed me,” he says. “I couldn’t stop myself from helping animals.”
Dawood and Mariya were fuelled by a common zeal and decided to start a venture that would help them perform rescues in a planned manner, and also bring the animals to a centre where they could be kept until they felt better.
‘The joy of doing rescue work is unparalleled.’
The duo went on to help many such voiceless creatures, sometimes with medical aid and other times by simply taking good care of them at the rescue centre. The space was given to them by the local municipal corporation and is about 2,300 sq m.
Among the many cases they have seen, Dawood says there are two he holds very close to his heart. One is of a young mare.
“Her leg was fractured and broken. The owner had tied nylon strings around its hind legs to prevent the mare from running away while she grazed,” says Dawood. He adds that the nylon had cut into the bone of the leg, thus preventing the helpless creature from moving.
When he received a call from a passerby who had seen the animal, Dawood knew he had to do something to help.
“From our knowledge of animal rescues, we had learnt that tending to a horse’s leg when fractured was no easy task. It would be a miracle even if the animal managed to survive.”
On going to the vet, they were informed that the leg would have to be amputated. Julie, the mare, would live with three legs. As Dawood adds, she lived with them for two years at the rescue centre where they looked after her well.
Another rescue was that of a dog.
“One rainy day we received a call that a dog was stuck in a pool of water on a nearby ground. When we reached the site, her state was pitiful. Half of the animal’s body was stuck in the water and the dog wasn’t able to make her way out,” says Dawood.
On examination, when he went into the water, Dawood discovered that the dog was unable to move as her hind legs were tied together. She had been thrown into the water by someone.
What they also figured was that she was a lactating mother and thus began to look for her pups around the area. But the rain made it impossible. So, Dawood took the mother to his rescue shelter.
The next day, on going back to the field, they spotted four pups that resembled the mother and picked them up in a box and took them to the shelter.
“As soon as we dropped them in front of their mother, they were so happy,” says Dawood. While the mother passed away after two months after this incident, two of the pups were adopted, while the other two were kept at the rescue centre.
‘Every rescue is an achievement.’
Helping a voiceless creature always comes with a sense of satisfaction, says Dawood. He adds that what he and his team are doing is vital as there are not many rescue operations in the valley.
“We are the most active and the face we have is not our own, but of the animals.”
In his rescue work, Dawood is joined by his wife Mariya. She says in her experience “it has been transformational to be able to help animals in need”. She adds that being able to save a soul which can do nothing for you in return has been an awakening experience.
She says, “We are often asked – why not help humans instead? This gives us an idea of how important it is to let people know about the sufferings and plight of animals.” She adds that with the rise of incidents involving man-animal conflicts daily, she believes if they can make changes in people’s behaviour towards animals, many problems can be solved.
Along with Mariya, there are three other people in Dawood’s team.
The way the rescue operations work is simple. The team’s numbers are on social media and people in the valley are aware of them.
“People contact us through call or WhatsApp and since we may not always be able to go on-site, we ask them for pictures and videos. This helps us get an idea of the severity of cases,” says Dawood.
Once he receives the details and can assess the state of the animal, he gets his staff together and they plan on how to go about it. He says, “We don’t have transport of our own, and so we contact load carriers and auto drivers and ask them to come to the shelter and load the equipment such as the cages, medical equipment, bandages, iodine, etc. or in the case of larger animals, ropes, grass to lure animal, etc. We then go to the site and take the animal to the vet or the shelter.”
At the shelter, dogs are given food twice a day. The meal includes rice mixed with pulses and soybean, and sometimes even non-vegetarian food. Horses and cows are given hay and dry grass fodder.
He adds that the biggest challenge they face is a lack of ambulances and space. The space too is small and overcrowded, increasing the chances of cross infection.
Additionally, adoptions are a concern. “Though we put up posts on social media, so people can come and adopt, there are many social stigmas here as keeping dogs is not a done thing in a Muslim majority community.”
To date, the shelter has helped 1,200 animals, says Dawood adding that they receive 8 to 10 calls a day and can do around three to four rescues.
“Currently, we are trying to raise funds to get ambulances so we can reach the destinations on time and even at odd times when transport may not be available,” says Dawood, who finances the venture through the earnings of the clothing store that he runs. “The yearly expenses amount to Rs 20 lakh and thus funds are of utmost importance.”
If you wish to be a part of Dawood’s endeavour to save and rescue animals, you can donate here.
Edited by Yoshita Rao