Compelled by love! Journey of an animal shelter volunteer


From passion stems compassion and then the desperate need to help out the tiny paws… life is not that simple for an animal shelter volunteer. Let’s see why.

Pallavi Dar

The word ‘volunteer’, according to Oxford Dictionary, means ‘a person who offers to do something without being compelled or paid’. Ordinarily, I would accept most meanings they come up with, but this one I have to mark as incorrect, most certainly with regard to the team of volunteers at the SPCA Animal Shelter in Noida. They go there because they are ‘compelled’ by a desperate need to help out, to give love and care, to somehow make a difference, to bring some joy into the lives of these ‘children of a lesser God’. They have limited medical knowledge, but they carry with them unlimited love and care. That makes up for a lot, as good intentions always do. And they do get ‘paid’… paid in pure love and total devotion.

Commitment to volunteer
Volunteering was just a vague idea in our minds when we started. We all had some free time, the idea was to go and help out the tailwaggers. We decided to start by helping out in the Puppies and Paralysed Dogs section in the animal shelter. This section also houses the abandoned pure breeds – all of them are heartbroken and need a lot of love and care. We also realised that coming in our free time would mean nothing. We needed to be here every day, free time would have to be created. It was a commitment we had made.
Melting the heart ‘hungry look’
Puppies are fragile. Maimed, ill, hurt puppies are doubly so and we decided to serve them a snack of Cerelac every afternoon to give them a boost. Feeding bottles were bought and we were on a roll. The tiny babies were bottle fed; the older pups lapped it up from the feeding bowls. We even made a makeshift puppy pen out of old wire netting to segregate them. Was all well? No. The older, paralysed dogs in the section watched us and waited for their turn to come. So, we added bread and eggs to the mixture after the puppies were fed and started to serve our paralysed adults too. They lapped it up and we thought we were set. Wrong again. The seemingly ‘healthier’ dogs, those who had healed somewhat from their injuries, now started to watch our every move with the fiercest of concentration. How could they be ignored? It is impossible not to get affected by melting eyes, showing deceptive hunger. So, we started to feed them too.
But it didn’t end there. Some of our pups caught secondary infections like colds and congestion and were moved to another room meant for this purpose. We fretted for our babies and followed them there to give them the snack they were used to. Here we were met with more candidates who had mastered the ‘melting the heart hungry look’. So, we started to feed them too. We also discovered another room where injured puppies were kept. They deserved the snack too. They came under our fold as well.
Unforgettable bonds
It didn’t stop at that. How could it? We couldn’t just offer them food and leave. We coaxed the fussy ones to eat, we tried to control the greedy ones, we consoled the ones who were hurting and we rejoiced when we saw some recover in front of our eyes. We removed ticks, held them during their treatments, bathed them, brushed them, played with them, and loved them. We were getting very attached to them. Every baby we lost devastated us. It was a struggle not to get derailed by these losses. We felt as if we had let them down, not done enough. We comforted each other; we were comforted by those remaining and all those who were brought in everyday. We forged new attachments, we couldn’t think of leaving.
Together we do
The enormity of the work to be done in a shelter hits us very often. It is never ending. And we have become experts at multi-tasking. No one has time to ask questions or wait for answers. Whoever reaches first starts getting the food ready. The volunteer next in gets the bowls organised. Together they run the kitchen. An area needs cleaning, pick up the broom. A shed needs washing, someone fixes the pipe, another gets to work with the wiper. A paralysed baby needs turning, just do it. Feeding bowls need washing, squat near the water spout and get it done. Water bowls need filling, just do it. Fights break out; dive right in and save the weaker ones. P.S. Try and not get hurt while at it.
Every bit counts
The team is bound together by its love and commitment to the babies. Our goals are the same, our hopes and nightmares are the same as well. We aim to provide palliative care, to give comfort and hope. The volunteers are guided and supported by the management, the shelter head, the para-vets and the various department heads. We do very little as compared to them, but we believe every bit counts. We see the babies blossom under our love, develop personalities, show attitude, throw tantrums and we know we are doing something right. Their welcoming faces and unconditional love make it all worthwhile.
(Pallavi Dar is a volunteer at SPCA Noida. Set up on the land leased by Noida Authority, SPCA Noida caters to the needs of abandoned, sick, injured animals. For details, log on