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SOCIETY

Respect for life

UMA MAHADEVAN-DASGUPTA profiles Lila Parulekar, whose Jeev Raksha is a haven for destitute animals in Pune.

THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

A home for homeless animals in "Jeev Raksha".

AT one time, Number 4A, Queen's Garden must have been one of the smartest addresses in Pune. But now, as 67-year-old Lila Parulekar tells us cheerfully, the house has literally gone to the dogs. They are everywhere — sprawled in the vast garden, curled up under the large trees, trotting around in the corridors, and drinking water from large aluminium pails.

"Jeev Raksha", Lila's house, is a home for homeless animals. All of nature seems to be in harmony here — dogs, cattle, trees, and birds. Crows peck at the food along with the dogs. "We even feed the rats," says Lila.

"Just ask for Kuttiwali Bai," Lila had told me on the phone. "Jeev Raksha" is open 24 hours, seven days a week. "Just don't come between one and four in the afternoon, because the dogs bark and it disturbs the neighbours." As we step out of the car, the dogs are already barking up a huge welcome. A local restaurant has sent two huge basins of laddoos. We spread out across the campus to distribute them, one per animal. There are dogs everywhere, with bowls of khichdi set before them, and they look up with interest at us.

A Labrador — who looks heartbreakingly like our Lab back home in Mumbai — barks excitedly. Lila tells me that he has turned ferocious because of bad treatment. A few other dogs are also tied — this is temporary, Lila says, because they will otherwise try to go back to wherever they came from, even if it's 20 miles away.

The rest wander free. There are cows and horses grazing alongside, donkeys flicking their tails idly, cats sunbathing, kites flapping, even wildfowl strutting around in a large covered cage.

Lila, who has a Masters in French Literature and has studied at Columbia University, New York, is a Director of Marathi newspaper Sakal. She worked with the New York Times and the Paris-based Le Monde for a while, but the call of India, and her childhood home in Pune where she had rescued many abandoned animals, was too strong.

Today, she has depleted her personal funds in keeping her home open to crippled, diseased and wounded animals. But her love for them, it seems, is boundless. The pups roll about on fresh newspaper. The critically ill animals sleep in her bedroom.

Besides food, shelter and treatment for the ailing animals, "Jeev Raksha" gives them a place to die with dignity. One donkey had wires tied so tight around its legs that one leg had to be amputated. When a cow died, plastic bags, blades, nails and sharp waste were found in its stomach.

Some 35 helpers during the day, and 20 at night, help to run "Jeev Raksha". A qualified veterinarian sterilises, treats and, in every way, cares for the animals. Fresh neem paste is ground every day to apply on the wounds.

In the kitchen, wholesome daliya or khichdi is cooked for the animals every morning. The majority roam where they like while the new ones are taken for a long walk on a lead. At night, all the dogs are taken inside the house, while the cattle have a shed to sleep in.

Every day at "Jeev Raksha" is intense, full of little tragedies and challenges. When Lila was given the Venu Menon Animal Allies Award 2002, the citation read: "Lila Parulekar has rescued, treated and sheltered hundreds of animals...doing her best to heal their wounds both physically and emotionally. Her shelter has become a sanctuary for abandoned animals that have found more than a best friend in her."

Humankind will take a long time, it seems, to understand that we have no right to enslave the rest of nature: we must share the planet. This year's Nobel Prize winning writer J.M. Coetzee has called for an end to our culture of cruelty to animals. But dogs are still kicked, horses whipped, cows fed lethal plastic and metal waste, and ailing animals left to die on the streets. Only shelters such as "Jeev Raksha" serve as our societal conscience, but they are too few in number.

How can you help?

In general, by learning to love animals and teaching your children to do so; and by respecting their right to life and to share the planet with us. By being careful about plastic and metal waste. By speaking out against any form of cruelty to animals. By volunteering, if you can, at an animal shelter in your city — you can take the dogs for a walk, bathe them, or just play with them — and they will reward you with their boundless gratitude.

And specifically, if you would like to help in kind: with old newspapers ("Jeev Raksha" uses 30 kilos of newspapers every day), old dhurries, bed sheets, even mosquito nets and old cotton saris that can be cut up to make bandages for the wounded animals.

If you would like to adopt an animal, visit "Jeev Raksha", and you will find that the animal will adopt you.

And if you would like to make a donation, "Jeev Raksha" has been registered as a trust, and donations are exempt from Income Tax under Section 80G.

The address is: 4A, Queen's Garden Road, Pune 411001. Ph:020-63662857.

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