We all live our lives accordingly, but there are a few people who make the biggest difference to mankind and humanity in their one life, which is a far-fetched thought for most of us. Geeta Sheshamani of Friendicoes – SECA, Society for Eradication of Cruelty to Animals is one such person, who has devoted herself completely to animal welfare. In tête-à-tête with D&P, we found myriad facets of her – a responsible citizen, a devoted university reader, a caring and loving pet parent (11 dogs and 26 cats), and above all a hard-core animal welfare activist – a real woman of substance, indeed.
Crystal Rogers needs no introduction to compassionate animal lovers world over, and for Geeta Sheshamani, she is the role model. As she fondly recalls her first meeting with ‘Ms Rogers’ as a school child, “I went to Crystal’s shelter to give away a feral cat. And I saw Crystal coming out with a monkey on one shoulder and kitten on the other and I thought I want to be like her, exactly like her.” And lassie’s spontaneous thought turned into an unswerving belief with in a next few years.
Geeta completed her studies and went abroad for PhD. But her love for animals won over the worldly pleasures and she found the deepest solace by serving those, who cannot serve themselves. She came back and formed a kindness club for animals. In 1979, her dreams and efforts were substantiated in a wonderful form, when Friendicoes – SECA, Society for Eradication of Cruelty to Animals came into existence.
Friendicoes SECA began with in the tiny premises 17 sq ft in the heart of Delhi, in a shopping complex – a bare shop with a curtain for its fourth wall, and no electricity or water. “Within the first week of our starting a clinic-cum-shelter, we had 27 dogs and 12 cats, who were either abandoned or were hit on roads and rescued by us. Undoubtedly, we were catering to a deep community need for people continued to come to us to help the strays, who did not have a place to be safe in. Today, we have four large rooms in a row, two operation theatres, and we have covered a corridor with fly proof mesh and fibreglass so that we have more space for kennels. Over 150 dogs and cats are currently being accommodated, treated, cared for and then rehabilitated,” Geeta proudly explained.
What started as a humble beginning has now gained good grounds. Today they also have a separate shelter for bigger animals at Gurgaon, near Delhi, where sick, injured or rescued animals are well fed and treated and a sister organization-SOS Wildlife. Freindicoes also runs a collaborative programme with Brooke Hospital for Animals and run two mobile clinics for equine welfare.
But, Geeta feels that they still have a long way to go. Even today she remembers all the hardships and challenges that she faced initially. It’s only her grit and deepest faith in almighty- Sai Baba that has always kept her going, come what may. According to her, the biggest challenge for her volunteers, team members and herself is to win the respect from the society. As she elaborates, “It’s not only me, but all those who were and are working here, were being mocked, for having no other job, so that they have to pick dog shit. And initially for 8 years, I myself did all the cleaning, swamping and washing, just to win some respect.”
In a poor country like India, where hunger is a big problem, she faced and is still facing the criticism for feeding milk, bread and biscuits to animals. According to her, hunger is a natural need for every living being and says, “It’s wonderful thought to feed poor people, but the money I am stretching my hands is the money we spend on luxuries. Give up one little luxury and blessings will be all yours.”
The last 28 years with Friendicoes is a journey, where she has gone through all the ups and downs, sometimes it’s bright and shiny, sometimes not. But her continuous honest efforts have made a big difference to the Indian animal welfare movement besides providing a firm foundation to her dream – Friendicoes. Before concluding, Geeta wants to give a message to all D&P readers to shower unconditional love, care and affection to all the animals – our friend for life.