The May 2017 issue of the ‘Dogs and Pups’ Magazine featured the VOSD Dog Sanctuary and VOSD’s Founder Rakesh Shukla in an interview. The interview was taken in March 2017. The transcript can be read after the images.
Q: Tell us in brief about your organisation and its inception?
I’ve never had a dog growing up but always wanted to have one. 8 yrs. back I got my first dog because by then I had figured that I have the infrastructure to support 1 dog. By this time my company was already doing well and I had hundreds of employees. And therefore, the administrative structure to support that 1 dog! Her name is Kavya. While walking my 4 months old Kavya, I found another street dog pup and brought it first to office then to home – her name is Lucky and she became my second dog and still lives with me. I then actively started taking care of dogs – feeding them in my street and rescuing them.
In 2010, there was an incident of allegedly a dog killing a child and eating it in Bangalore. There were several newspaper reports and the Karnataka ministers, bureaucrats gave several statements to the press that street dogs will be killed. I approached several NGOs in Bangalore to go to court and prepare to file a writ in case any order came – because killing of dogs in illegal. Not only did no NGO want to help, to my dismay I discovered that these laws called the Animal Birth Control Act 2000 have been in effect for a decade and there was a government order to cull dogs in 2007 and no writ was filed. [The investigations carried out were the first published documents by VOSD and can be seen as Part 1 and Part II of the investigation and the Forensic Report]
To protect dogs and help people protect dogs, I founded The Voice of Stray Dogs (VOSD). Initially, it was only to give out information and analysis and VOSD is world’s largest site for legal, investigative and medical information in India street dogs. In 2013-14 we started rescuing dogs as well. Today we are the largest dog rescue in any city of the world.
The VOSD Dog Sanctuary is not a shelter. Every dog has a name. All dogs are free within their 30+ enclosures in a 3.5-acre area. Each enclosure has an enclosed/ covered area, as well as a tree-lined open space. The enclosures have heaters during the winter, and individual water bodies for the dogs to jump into and cool off in summer. The dogs also enjoy a 1/4-acre artificial lake dubbed the ‘swimming pool’.
VOSD has never put down a dog for reasons of space, costs, or problem behaviour. Every single dog is fought for, and received the very best private veterinary treatment there is, and that’ss the reason many have undergone complex surgeries and procedures. VOSD aggressively treats life-threatening diseases like Cancers, Distemper, and Parvovirus.
Q: Your journey so far?
We’ve rescued 7000+ dogs and given them the type of treatment that is unprecedented even for pet dogs. 5000+ dogs have been released after these treatments, ~1000 have died because of the grave injuries they had when they came to us and ~1000 have been brought to the VOSD Dog Sanctuary – that is my farm and I live there.
The amount of love that I have received from these dogs is unparalleled. There is a tremendous sense of loss and heartache when one of them passes on because the relationship I have with them is such that I see myself as their father. However, I have learnt not be paralysed with grief as I must be there for everyone, not just one.
The unpleasant part has been however the resentment and animosity from the local NGO’s and rescuers. It is surprising since the people outside Bangalore are very welcoming of VOSD. There are about 50-60 dogs each from Pune and Mumbai with me and 100+ dogs from various parts of India. But the older NGOs keep seeing perhaps VOSD as a threat even though they do not dog rescue and we do not do Animal Birth Control (ABC).
Q: What are the main projects and animal welfare programmes that are being run by your organisation?
We are currently running two crowd funding campaigns, these are focused on retired. We are currently running two crowd funding campaigns, these are focused on retired services dogs and 5 snout-less dogs living with VOSD.
1. #PatriotDogs: #PatriotDogs are the thousands of dogs that serve our country in Indian military, paramilitary, police and special forces. More than 100 of these dogs will join the 15 other #PatriotDogs from Kerala, Karnataka, Railway Police and military dogs already in VOSD’s care at the VOSD Dog Sanctuary in Bangalore. You can check our #PatriotDogs campaign video here . Leading celebrities and influencers from sports, entertainment, and fashion such as Virat Kohli, Rahul Dravid, Venkatesh Prasad, Chris Gayle, Nana Patekar, Boman Irani, Soha Ali Khan, Sanjjanaa Galrani Kitu Gidwani, Divya Seth, Shah, Ashwini Ponnappa, Prasad Bidapa , Nitin Sahrawat have added their voices to support #PatriotDogs
#PatriotDogs are trained in various specialties like explosive detection, tracking down insurgents or terrorists, and mounting massive search-and- rescues. From the tender age of just two months, they serve our country through the prime of their lives – usually 8-10 years. It is a sad fact that till recently, they were euthanised at the end of their service till the Supreme Court put an end to the practice in 2015.
VOSD is creating a purpose-built facility at the VOSD Dog Sanctuary for these dogs.
2. Husna and friends: Husna is among 5 dogs that were rescued without snouts and live at the VOSD Dog Sanctuary. Each of the dogs was rescued VOSD Rescue and treated fully before they started living at the VOSD Dog Sanctuary. The other dogs are: Haider, who was rescued when he was 3 months old with a missing upper jaw 1200 miles away 3 years ago. Michael was rescued when he was 20 days old after an accident that left him without his lower jaw and has now lived at the VOSD Dog Sanctuary for 2.5 yrs.
Tipu was a year old when he met with an accident and lost his upper jaw and was rescued by VOSD 2 yrs. ago. Yadav was about 1 yr. old and came to VOSD missing half his upper jaw 6 months ago.
Q: What according to you is the strength, passion or the driving force that keep you going and doing animal welfare?
First I do not think of it as animal welfare, I’m allergic to that term as I am to being called a ‘dog lover’. I believe that any real love is best expressed in action rather than talk. As a matter of fact, now I have a series of talks that are called #LoveIsAVerb and where I talk about the transformative power of love if it motivates someone for action. But the action must be coupled with planning, management and impeccable execution.
Q What according to you are the reasons for increased numbers of animals in the shelter? And what measures you think are required to put a check on it?
First, it’s not a shelter. This is my home as well as for my dogs. It is a rather large one – that that has hundreds of kids, and about half a ton of food is cooked every day, and we have our own hospital and staff. But it is my home and theirs.
Second, the dogs that I choose to keep are with me because they don’t have any place to go because they need constant care. They have all been gravely injured and have fought death. They all have some condition that makes them unfit for release – most of them have missing eyes or limbs or other such conditions. 90% of them are Indian dogs that were street dogs before they came to me, but there are several pedigree dogs that lived in people’s homes. The reason they have come to me, therefore, are different. The Indian dogs come because there is so much garbage on the road they have an unending food source, coupled with people’s indifference that causes most of the car accidents and sometimes cruelty. In the case of pedigree dogs, it’s mostly age or some terminal or expensive to cure the illness that makes people abandon the dog. Stricter norms for breeding and better awareness for owners are necessary. A large part of it is also the generally poor quality and/or profiteering nature of vet-care in India. For the same treatment and medical care, care for dogs is more expensive or non-existent.
Q: How many dogs do you have at VOSD the shelter, and how are they taken care?
The number varies between 730-750 now. Dogs constantly come – in the last 1 year more than 150 dogs came in. But I also lose dogs to disease age and other complications. As mentioned earlier they have large enclosures, with their own water bodies, a large team to clean, cook and feed. A team of 3 vet assistants to give medical care and 2 vets that between them give us 40hrs of their time a week.
Q: Are there some favourites also amongst the pack?
They are all special in their own way, some more than others.
Q: Besides animal welfare, what else keep you busy, tell us a brief about your hobbies and likings? Current and brief past.
I founded and run an IT company called TWB_ so between running the farm, the company and the caring for dogs at home I really have no time. I don’t spend any time outside of these 3 activities at all – which includes no socializing or meeting friends or watching movies or taking vacations. I’ve not done any of those for at least 4 yrs. now, not even once.
Q: Last but not the least, what message you want to give to our readers?
India is the land of compassion. The Indian tiger the most majestic, our national animal, and the Indian dog which too is an independent breed and is the most common animal in India. And we have failed them both. Compassion is not an abstract concept it comes from doing. If you can – don’t leave a dog behind. If you can’t – at least don’t be cruel to them.