W hen my girlfriend, Virginie, and I arrived in Coimbatore, Mini, the founder of the Humane Animal Society, picked us up from the bus station. I was immediately impressed by her charm, intellect, and obvious passion for the project. As we drove to the hostel she'd arranged for our first few nights, she filled us in on the background of the society and the state of animal welfare in India. In the seven months I'd spent in the country, and had never met a person who could so lucidly and knowledgeably answer the questions that I'd had about how animals are treated here. We visited the HAS centre in Coimbatore city and met the volunteers, workers, and doctors who devote their time to improving the lives of dogs all over the city, as well as the dogs (mostly temporary residents) who stayed there. We learned about the HAS adoption efforts, population control measures, and outreach programmes. We would be spending most of our time with the more permanent, likely unreleasable animals on the HAS farm, a peaceful sanctuary situated outside of the city. With the help of Mini and a few other volunteers, we cleaned and stocked up a little cottage nearby that would be our base, and, at the end of the second day, moved in.
The first time we visited the farm, dozens of dogs ran to the gate to meet us with varying degrees of friendliness (we were, after all, strangers!). Many of them were three-legged, or had bad skin, and my initial reaction was one of pity. I soon realized that perhaps this was misplaced; these differently abled dogs were a lot luckier than they would have been on the streets, and on the farm they are getting by just fine. They are full of character and pelt and play around the fields with just as much enthusiasm as their "healthier" brethren would. They were a delight to interact with! The farm itself is lovely; Wide, open spaces, room for the dogs to run and the resident cow and horse, to graze, fruit trees, outdoor enclosures for dogs which need to be kept separate, and kennels for those who need closer supervision. We'd arrived at a busy time, and had a lot to do. We spent most of our stay helping with construction and digging. Of course, the most rewarding time was that spent working with the dogs, be it feeding, cleaning, treating, or just getting to know them. Subramani and his wife, the care-takers on the farm and our supervisors, radiated with warmth and kindness. They laughed a lot and shared lunch with us every day, and despite not speaking the same language we quickly became friendly. Two weeks sped by, and soon it was time to say goodbye.
Despite a busy schedule, a characteristically considerate Mini saw us off at the train station. As we waited we discussed our experience. Mini is the first to admit that there is a long way to go. A lack of resources, government apathy, and an uninformed public make championing animal rights it seem like an uphill struggle. But if their track record and our observations are anything to go by, the Humane Animal Society is the people for the job