Animal Aid is an incredible place. The description on their website describes it as a “vital rescue center, hospital and sanctuary for injured and ill street animals in Udaipur, Rajasthan, India” that “rescues thousands of hurt and sick animals each year and provides sanctuary to those who need life-long care.” It was started by Jim Myers and Erika Abrams, an American couple who began living on and off in India in the early 90s. They felt sorry for all the street animals they saw and wanted to do something to help. In 2002 they founded Animal Aid Unlimited in Rajasthan.
It started as a very small endeavor and is now an operation running on four acres of land with more than 400 animals and 50+ full-time employees. There are at least 200 sanctuary animals that will live out their lives at Animal Aid. The rest are undergoing veterinary treatment and will be re-released to the streets when they are healthy. The majority of the animals are dogs, but there are also many cows, donkeys, pigs, goats, a couple cats, and even a blind monkey, all ranging from newborn to geriatric.
Animal Aid also has a hospice area for cows. Under lndian law, cows cannot be euthanized, even if they’re fatally ill/dying. So, when Animal Aid receives a “downed cow” they give it a safe, comfortable place to die (on a mattress & with pain management). It can take days, even weeks for some of these poor cows to die. On my first day there, I sat with a hospice cow for about half an hour. I talked to her and stroked her neck. She was lucid, looking around, but calm. The next day I sat with her again. I could tell she was struggling. Her legs were spasming and she was suffering waves of panic; her eyes would go super wide and roll around and she was gasping for air. I felt so bad for her! I stroked her and told her over and over, “You can go now. You can go now. It’s okay. It’s okay.” While I was sitting with her, a group of Indian women who were taking a tour of the facility stopped right behind me. I didn’t look up but I knew they were watching me and the cow. I could hear them speaking in Hindi. Then they started praying. One woman would say a line of prayer and the others would repeat it. Even though I couldn’t understand what they were saying, I knew they were praying for the cow. So I joined them. Not in Hindi, and not to a Hindu god or even a Christian god, but just to the mercy of the universe. I thought, “Please take this cow in peace. End her struggle.” It was such an overwhelmingly powerful experience; I started sobbing. Then the women all started thanking me, hands together prayer-like in front of their faces. Some of them touched my shoulders. Then they left. I knew I would stay with this cow until she died, even if I was there through lunch and until the sanctuary closed at 5:00. But I didn’t have to wait long. Thirty minutes after the prayer session, the cow died very peacefully, without one last spasm or gasp of air. I saw her jaw go lax and her eyes stopped moving and I knew she had passed. I burst out crying again, but this time they were tears of relief. I’m not a religious person, but there was something deeply spiritual about that moment. It will stay with me forever.
However spiritual that moment was, though, it was not my favorite moment at Animal Aid. My favorite moments were walking into the kennels with the paralyzed pups (Handicapped Heaven) and having them RUN over (okay, it was more like a scoot, but out of respect for these amazing dogs, I’m going to say RUN) for cuddles and pets and love. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVED these dogs and I developed favorites by day two. Most of them have been hit by cars, have permanent spinal cord damage, and will never walk again. My first thought when I saw all these dogs (there are about 70 of them) was, “Why are they spending money to keep these dogs alive? Why not euthanize?” And I’m a HUGE dog lover! But after a day with these dogs, it was obvious why not euthanize… they are HAPPY! They smile and play, run and roll around, lick and give kisses, get excited about eating, bark, get jealous, and they love attention! Hanging out with them brought me so much joy. I hope they could feel it.
Another highlight of my four days at Animal Aid was bottle-feeding and hanging out with the baby calves. Some were only a few weeks old and orphaned. Ambi, an all brown baby, was my favorite. She was very weak and loved getting petted. I loved her so much that I spent 2.5 hours one day just pulling dozens of ticks off that little girl.
One final thing that impressed me about Animal Aid was the staff. I had a lovely conversation with Jim, one of the founders, about how they found their employees. He said, “They found us. They were all people who couldn’t find jobs elsewhere and came to us looking for work.” When asked if they were animal lovers, he said that they weren’t… as first. But the ones who are still working there have an obvious affection for the animals they care for and are extremely hardworking and dedicated to their jobs. One of my favorite employees was a guy who suffered from polio and could not use his legs, which curled up permanently under his body. He moved around using just his arms, hands on the ground. Guess where he worked? Handicapped Heaven with the paralyzed dogs. And he was so amazing at his job. He blew me away every day.
I left a piece of my heart at Animal Aid, and if I hadn’t had to go to the hospital, I would probably still be there. I hope to return some day soon.
It’s super easy to donate to them, so if you can, please do! It’s a fantastic cause!! Here’s the info for donating or volunteering if you’re ever in Udaipur:
ANIMAL AID UNLIMITED
Location: Near TB Hospital in Badi village (8km from Udaipur)
Visitor info: Visitors are welcome until 5pm any day of the week and it’s just a short ride by auto-rickshaw or taxi to the location. And of course, volunteers of all ages and backgrounds are welcome as well. The organization doesn’t provide accommodation for volunteers but they do offer a great deal of assistance for those who sign up, helping you find a place to stay and assisting with everything else you could possibly need.
THE BIG GUYS
This baby cow had a dislocated hip and was learning to walk again: