The city downed its shutters during the lockdown imposed due to the Coronavirus and every four-legged stray found itself looking desperately for comfort. You may have noticed too how strays in your area seemed at a loose end for lack of company, food, shelter, and love. The plight of these animals has time and again been highlighted as there exists an inverse correlation between the worsening conditions of strays and the shelter homes present in the city. What can you do to help? We got Salil Jason Fernandez - an animal welfare worker and Director of the documentary ‘The Tails of Boo-Boo & Cuddly Poo’ and Dr Hansika Singh - a veterinarian. They detail out what is it that should be your plan of action when you see an injured stray.
How did the plight of strays worsen due to the lockdown?
Shops, eateries, public spaces all shut down and this posed a huge problem to the usual frequenters - stray animals. The common problem was the lack of food. Restaurants across the city were often found to be welcoming to these animals and with their primary source cut off, strays became a national topic of concern.
Another issue that needed to be addressed was injured strays. Usually, in the course of daily life, animal welfare workers, activists, and the likes were out and about and thus these were taken care of to a certain extent. However, the lockdown put a halt to this.
In the city of Mumbai, it is a given that you will come across an injured stray every once in a while if not more often. What do you do when this happens? You listen to the advice of experts and then go about and help. Your one deed could make all the difference.
Why should you help an injured stray dog?
For Salil Jason Fernandez who has loved being around animals ever since he can recall, the bond he formed with creatures went on to fuel his desire to become an animal welfare worker. “The man-animal conflict has increased over the years and this further leads to cruelty which further causes animals to get violent and the vicious cycle goes on. I knew it was time to do something about it.”
Along with animal welfare, Salil is a passionate filmmaker and during his travels and works, he was involved in raising funds for the strays. However, it was only a couple of years ago that he realized the immense sense of satisfaction he got by engaging in animal welfare at the grass-root level. He says that the resilience that filmmaking thought him was what he carried over to his animal welfare field.
It was only when he realized how rewarding the work is at an emotional level, that Salil decided upon doing a fifteen-minute video with an aim of highlighting the plight of strays. What set out to be a crisp video went on to be a two-hour-long movie featuring the biggest names of the industry!
The context: help a stray near you and make the world a better place!
How can you tend to an injured stray?
Dr. Hansika Singh was clear about her vocation towards animals ever since she adopted a stray herself during childhood. Doofus was her motivation as Hansika set sail towards her career in veterinary science. “I find joy and immense satisfaction each time I try to save or improve the life of any animal in distress and that keeps me going.”
When she spots an injured stray, Hansika says she finds approaching the dog carefully the best strategy. “Once I figure out the temperament of the dog, only then do I take further steps. While touching it tenderly, I assess the gravity and type of wound(s) and then provide the necessary veterinary treatment.”
If you are not a medic how should you address an injured stray?
While Hansika and other paramedics are in a position to provide medical aid to the stray, you are not. Uninformed intervention can sometimes do more harm than good and that’s exactly why Salil tells you how to go about helping the animal if you are not a medic.
Recounting his own journey, Salil says now that he’s been feeding the strays in the neighbourhood, they feel comfortable around him. So here’s what does the trick.
Gain their trust
While attempting to feed the stray, he says don’t tug them or force them. Gain their trust and confidence slowly.
Do not self medicate
“When my strays get injured, they allow me to take them to the vet. No one should give medicines without proper consultation. If the stray will not come with you to the vet, take pictures of the wound and show these to the vet and then go with the prescribed course of treatment.”
Call an ambulance
For wounds that require ointment, call a private ambulance, says Salil.
For pets that do not budge
Sometimes when the animal is too scared to budge at all, Salil says the only course of action possible is trapping them using net or noose and forcibly putting them in.
Send them to a paid foster
While this is a great solution to the animal’s woes, Salil says the expenses for the entire process can go way beyond your budget.
Do’s and Dont’s for when you spot an injured stray
For a first-hand guide on what your course of action should be when you spot a wounded stray, here’s a do’s and don’ts by Dr. Hansika.
Approach the dog slowly and calmly
If the dog seems to respond positively, try to ensure that it is moved to a safer place. An injured dog must be moved gently and with great care. For a small dog, use a thick bath towel to wrap it to control its head movement and prevent escape. Grown-up dogs can be moved using a makeshift stretcher. (a door, a rug, or a large blanket, can be used for carrying - by at least two persons.)
Muzzle the dog
Do this if needed to prevent the risk of being bitten. A makeshift muzzle with a scarf or roll of gauze can be made. If muzzling the dog seems difficult, an Elizabethan collar can be applied which will help calm the dog and prevent bite injuries.
Take the dog to the nearest vet
The best thing to do would be to take the dog to the nearest veterinarian for treatment especially in case of emergency or critical cases as under -
a. Profuse or unstoppable bleeding
b. Loss of consciousness
c. Inability to stand
d. Difficulty in breathing or rapid breathing
If transporting the dog to the veterinarian is not possible, try to arrange any local animal ambulance or call a veterinarian in a non-emergency situation. (It is important to stay with the dog until the help arrives.)
A bandage should be firm but not tight
If a badly injured dog is bleeding profusely, press down firmly on the injured area with fingers and palm and apply a firm but not tight bandage. Gauze or a washcloth or towel will often do the trick. Even if the bandage gets soaked with blood, don't remove it. Place additional materials on top.
If follow up visits to the veterinarian are needed, try to take the dog to the vet till the time it is warranted. Also, if possible, provide it with a shelter in your house or compound and of course food during the days the treatment is being carried out or until the aftercare is needed.
Don’t excite the dog while approaching it
Avoid touching it immediately without trying to know its temperament as the ailing dog might bite due to pain and fear (insecurity). Even a dog that is kind and docile by nature is more likely to behave in a hostile way after getting injured.
How can society be more conducive for stray animals?
While speaking about the central issue that is the worsening condition of strays, it is also important to shed light on the possible solutions. Salil says that there needs to be an end to the blame game. NGOs are overflowing. The BMC is doing its bit and the question is are we?
He underlines the two possible solutions to this mammoth problem. “Sterilisation is something that could help curb the problem greatly by curbing the population of strays. Community adoption is the second. Individuals alone cannot at times handle the expenses that come with providing care for strays. However, if societies split the costs, there is much that can be done.”
An aspect that needs attention is the space of animal welfare. Salil comes from a family background where animals were always treated with love, where social work has been a prime objective, and where psychology has prevailed. “Animal welfare workers often cope with a lot, since most of them have never had prior training or the skills that would help them in this field. Hostility is encountered on a daily basis and they need to be mentally strong.”
This animal caregiver is of the opinion that it is time organizations are structured where these animal welfare workers will receive a salary, proper training, and courses for the same. “Child caregivers belong to an organization. So do other social workers. How can one sole individual be expected to take up a mammoth task by themselves?”
You can do your bit by caring for the strays in your area. If you wish to know-how or simply explore this space, the upcoming film ‘The Tails of Boo-Boo & Cuddly Poo’ spans across these issues in a fun thrilling yet insightful blend.