An all-animal lover from the heart, holding a Masters degree from the university in Singapore, Manager at a venture philanthropic fund, the founder of the Water Bowl Project, co-founder of Bangalore Cats Squad, volunteer at shelters,wild-life groups like Avian and Reptile Rehab Center(ARRC) and CARE, Bangalore, Sanjana Govindan, from the city of Bangalore, India seems to have left no stone unturned to develop a better environment for animals in the city.
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Sanjana Govindan(In her words):
Start of her journey- When, why, and how?
“I have never not had a connection with animals, although the very first notion that I had was when I was 13 years old, and a little puppy that I looked after was run over and I called up my father crying, who had come home from work midday. We went to a vet, who had to put down the puppy to sleep. To experience euthanasia for the first time, see a loved one lose life because of someone reckless, and no proper infrastructure to save the life of that little being made me realize that I have to do more. Feeding the animals and playing with them was just not enough.
My journey did start with rescuing stray dogs in Bombay, then evolved into cats during my graduation in Singapore where I found a small neonate and me and my roommates decided to save its life. I would sometimes carry it to class as well. Fast forward to a few months when I had to return to India for an internship. I brought him along to Bombay as I could not leave him anywhere. He is 13 years old now, my very first cat ever lives with my parents and this was one of the most interesting decisions of my life. As a consequence, many years later I have started Bangalore Cats Squad where we save thousands of cats annually, spay and neuter community cats, we take in severely traumatic and injured cats.
Urban wildlife is also one of my interests because I think cities have overtaken the environment of many other animals. I volunteer for the Avian and Reptile Rehab Center(ARRC), do birds and squirrel releases who are permanently homeless as a result of overgrowing constructions and expansion of urban cities close to wildlife areas.
Apart from fostering, I try to put knowledge together in ways that other rescuers can understand as in India we do not have access to information on rescue unlike the west where an independent can easily look up online and learn how to bottle feed, how to seal a wound, how to give drips, etc.,”
Hurdles and small wins along the journey
“The earliest kind of opposition that I had faced was from my kindergarten teachers who had sent a note to my mother saying that -” Sanjana releases all the rabbits every day.” Caging birds or animals defied logic to me and ever since I would simply let them out of the cage. Over the years animal cruelty had exceeded to such severity wherein I found myself confronting the police, the legal system when there have been extreme acts of cruelty, and yet people have turned a blind eye.
Talking to the hardest animals of all – “the human beings”, advocating and explaining to children and especially moms who call me with a lot of doubts like whether they had can have pets during pregnancy, that they have been advised by relatives not to have a cat as it could be bad for the lady and with a lot of other superstitions. People also have doubts if their babies will be born deformed, or if someone can die by getting Toxoplasmosis, etc., Having patience and a non-judgemental conversation is what helps in such a scenario and this is also a major part of what I do.
I easily invest about 15-20 hours a week, but this profession did help me learn design skills, build websites, conduct fundraising which does take a significant amount of time. I feed about 9 to 30 dogs daily and if there are any full time fosters that do need 24/7 attention. For example for the last 4 months, I have been looking after a distempered dog with a drip system arranged, allopathic and homeopathic medicines are being administered.”
Conflict between personal life and social welfare activities
“Managing between personal life and animals does create conflict but it also creates tons of fatigue, especially when you lose animals under your care. It becomes difficult to forget and I have a permanent gravesite in my heart for every animal that I have lost. In terms of conflict, it’s more about the guilt of not being able to spend enough time with my daughter and family and the outcome of that is I have the least time for myself but I still try.”
Journey into Veganism
“This is a funny story, my husband was not a committed lover initially, his perception towards having a pet or interacting with them was different than mine. As I was familiar with animal rescue there was no barrier between me and stray. I did not mind stopping and playing with every animal whereas he was concerned about me not being careful and contracting rabies. Over the years, seeing the kind of animal cruelty cases I dealt with, his approach towards animals changed. He started the journey of Veganism with extreme discipline in the family even before I did as he no longer wanted to consume animal products. “
“The coolest part being is raising a vegan child in the family. For example, today is my daughters and she turns 10 years old. We bought a vegan cake ahead of time and she was excited about it, so much so that she mentioned that there was no milk, no eggs, no animal products in her cake to her friends over a zoom party. In terms of nutrition, we substitute oat and almond milk, peanut- oat milk including rice-flour milk, paneer with tofu. Like any other child, she likes waffles, and I keep trying vegan recipes with nutritional yeast instead. I make sure that there are plenty of greens in her diet.
The race is very long
PANDEMIC is also an important time to pay attention to how housing communities treat owners of pets like cats and dogs as many people are using the pandemic as an opportunity to get rid of animals. Knowing your rights, knowing what rules prevail is very important. Secondly, do not rely on the security force or police as they are already overwhelmed rather few people can be reasonable if you explain it in ways that they understand. Having conflict and heading for confrontation would just mean that you are out-of-steam all the time.
As an animal rescue worker the race is very long and in the end, it is with yourself. You will have many battles to fight, so if you burn out each time with every battle you will not live to fight the next one. There will be ones you lose but you need to keep going. Don’t pick up the sword for every battle. Pace yourself. Know your rules and know your rights and don’t let anyone ride a rough shot on you.
Without a doubt, I would say I have the deepest respect towards Menaka Gandha (founder of People for animals). Because she has fought a long, lonely battle and to be in that place takes a great deal of personal toll. To be constantly at odds with so many forces that do not understand and do not pay attention. I also have tremendous respect for all the unsung heroes who are actual workers in this sector. Not just the doctors or veterinarians but also the paramedical workers, people who are picking up the animals from the street, who help in burial. I think real India is in all these people who rose to the occasion every single time when I have bought an animal in distress without caring about gender, age, race, the religion that I came from.
My real inspiration throughout my life has been these random strangers who work or maybe they don’t but take 5 min or 10 minutes to save a life and change my day. Help always came when in need from such people.
My core asks from the viewers is, if you can make your message simple, relatable to every person you meet and you take away any negativity associated with animal welfare and make it a profession and a culture like we look at armed forces or the medical field which we can be proud off, I’d be really grateful. We can see a change in the community only when the narrative around animal welfare changes. Do what you can to make animal welfare mainstream and this will have a huge impact on the life of every animal and person in the country.
Contact Sanjana Govindan (Instagram Profile)
The Animal Saver (TAS) message
The Animal Saver concludes this story with a message – “The bigger picture is always forgotten. But individuals like Sanjana Govindan remind us of our responsibilities. The harmonious ways of life are forgotten and for this reason alone everyone suffers. Especially the animal kind. We need to take responsibility for animal welfare and ensure that we support the initiatives of the individuals and NGOs who are doing the noble work of saving the street animals, even though we are not directly involved in such activities. Educate the right knowledge about the importance of animal welfare to your children and also ensure that they are part of the healthy lifestyle of veganism. Thank you.”
Host: Lakshman Molleti
Interviewer / Writer: Gnaneswari JN
All rights reserved by THE ANIMAL SAVER