Angels of mercy Dharamsala Animal Rescue
Located in Rakkar Village, it is on Rakkar Road, overlooking the valley at the foot of the beautiful Dhauladhar Range of the Indian Himalayas. The maximum time you need to devote is 4-5 hours a day, 5 days a week. Dar is 10 minutes away from Gyoto Monastery, home of the 17th Karmapa and Norbulingka Institute, which preserves Tibetan Arts. It is 35 minutes from Mcleod Ganj, home to the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Refugees. During your leisure time you can visit these places or go trekking or sightseeing to such places as Kangra Fort and Dal Lake. DAR will arrange your accommodation in Rakkar. It is a shared space, which includes food, and is within walking distance. The fee you pay to stay is what you can give. It is a wonderful space promoting sustainability and only taking in travellers working for the betterment of the community, called Ghoomakad. You can read more about it in our previous travel story on Rakkar. DAR was founded to help the stray animals of Dharamsala and to keep the community safe from rabies. It strives to help any animal in need and educates the community on compassion towards all living creatures. DAR is always looking for volunteers to care for their animals. It runs a spay/neuter program for stray dogs and a rescue centre and Mobile Clinic, providing treatment for sick and injured dogs, besides providing a shelter for dogs that cannot be left out on the street. It also works to get as many dogs adopted in a forever-home as possible. DAR is looking for vets who are willing to stay for a minimum of two to four weeks to help with spays and neuters as well as diagnosing medical conditions, and looking for someone that can help teach its staff and have a cross cultural exchange with their medical team, so they can work together to help animals, with educational and cultural experiences from different parts of the world.
Historically, the government in Dharamsala would poison street dogs to reduce numbers. Not only was this very brutal, leading to excruciating painful deaths, but it was also was quite ineffective. A new dog would come in and claim the dead dog’s territory, and start breeding all over again. DAR believed there is a better way, and from humble beginnings, started to address the street dog issue.
An angel of Mercy named Deb Jarrett tried to eradicate the suffering of street animals in Dharamsala, humanely reduce the stray population, end death by rabies, and promote better relations between humans and animals in the community, after coming to work here as a volunteer.Says Deb, the founder of Dharamsala Animal Rescue, “A feeling of making a true contribution to this planet was lurking deep down inside of me. The need to fill that void led me to Dharamsala, to spend several weeks volunteering at a preschool. Working with the children proved completely overwhelming, as did the chaotic culture in India. What truly got to me, however, was seeing an injured and bloody dog lying in the temple where the school was held, apparently left to die. It broke my heart to watch the dog suffer — and to see how little the local people seemed to care about his condition. I was saddened by the reactions, and felt helpless. Incredibly, my path crossed with a local man who knew someone who could help. Miraculously, my actions and concern sparked a change. Today, I am happy to report the dog, Tommy, is healthy and cared for by this very village. Upon returning home to the USA, I knew I needed to do everything in my power to improve the lives of the street animals.
I created Dharamsala Animal Rescue to raise awareness about the animals of Dharamsala and fund local projects. And we don’t just limit ourselves to dogs! We also have treated hundreds of sheep, cats, donkeys, horses, cows, mules, monkeys, goats, and birds for various injuries and diseases. Dharamsala Animal Rescue has a great local staff and receives additional help from volunteer western veterinarians. We believe in empowering the local staff and helping them grow in their careers as they take care of these amazing animals.”
Its clinic in Rakkar has taken care of dozens of animals, including malnourished puppies, dogs with broken bones from car accidents, etc. It also works to raise awareness about driving safely so animals are not injured and providing them humane treatment. Since 2009, the organisation has sterilised and vaccinated 1,000 dogs. The dogs then go back onto the streets to live to fend for themselves. A few remain at the shelter.
The organisation has a mobile clinic staffed with a veterinarian, vet assistant and volunteers and runs daily so the problem of having to transport animals to a primary shelter constricted by size and staff diminishes. The organisation engages the locals to help with the treatment and recovery of the sick animal, which may include feeding, administering medicine, and calling DAR again if more problems arise. Says Deb, “For instance, we saw a pup just laying next to her mom on the front steps of a shop. We stopped and asked the shop owners if these were their dogs.. They said “no” they are strays but they feed them, (this is common). We asked where the other puppies were and were told they died. So, we will try our best to keep this one healthy. We dewormed her that day and will go back for her vaccination and spay when she is old enough, as well as her mom. We gave the shop owners our number to call us if any of the dogs get sick or injured. Teamwork with the community is the only way we will accomplish anything!” By being in the different villages and suburbs regularly, the organisation has formed long lasting relationships with the locals and they work together in conducting spay/neuter) camps and performing other community services.
Adds Deb, “The monks at Gyuto Monastery nearby love the stray dogs, and look after them really well, calling us when they are sick or injured, and even bringing them to our clinic for sterilization (and offering to pay!). They don’t just call us, they stay and watch how the dog is treated, get medicine for it, and look after it during recovery – they are the loveliest! They even let an old injured mule live out his life on their grounds. They recently called us about a pup whose paw was injured and had parvo symptoms. It was so cute how they all watched with the concern of parents as we cleaned up his wound and gave him some painkillers. The little doggie must have felt so loved! While we were treating him, His Holiness, The 17th Karmapa, who resides in the Gyuto Monastery, came past and blessed the dog. His Holiness Karmapa loves animals and this guy was lucky to receive his blessing.”
Among all the sad stories of dogs who are too ill or injured and cannot be saved in spite of the DAR team’s best efforts, Deb has many success stories to offer as well.
“Sheru was approximately eight weeks old when we received a call that he had been run over by a car. He leg was completely smashed and we needed to do an emergency amputation. He is such a sweet guy and we all fell in love with him. His recovery was quick and soon enough he was coming on our daily hikes with the rest of the dogs. Sheru was lucky enough to be adopted by a nice monk from the Sarah College where he now attends classes with the students, hangs out at the women’s hostel, and gets taken on walks to a river where he can swim!” She also relates the story of an orphan monkey. “Bali, the baby monkey, was hit by a car. None of us had ever spent so much time with a baby monkey. We had to amputate his smashed limb but he learned to trust us, let us feed him and play with him. We were hoping we could keep him but we knew he needed to be back swinging in the trees,” Deb says with a wry grin.
Deb explains, “Our rescue program handles many such cases that our Mobile Clinic cannot, because the animal needs 24 hour care. Every day we respond to calls on our helpline to come to the aid of animals injured after being hit by a vehicle, has severe wounds, illnesses, burns, etc. Most villages across India don’t have helplines, a hospital or shelter for animals so animals must suffer without any help and possibly die slow, painful deaths. We receive many calls from outside Dharamsala too, but unfortunately, we barely have the funds, space, and manpower to keep up with the issues in our own city.”
DAR works in the Charan Kad slum of Dharmsala, which is home to displaced families from the poorest areas of India, struggling to survive with begging and waste collection. There are also about 200 stray dogs living in the slum and with the families living in makeshift tents, it is a huge health risk. Each year, DAR holds a rabies vaccination camp and then follows up with a ABC (Animal Birth Control) programme to try to prevent the population from growing. Every year on September 28th, World’s Rabies Day, DAR also provides and educational talk at a select school and offers free rabies vaccinations to any person who brings in their pet on that day. From mid 2014, thanks to the Worldly Wags ABC Cooperative sponsorship, DAR now has a full time vet on staff to only perform sterilisations and provide rabies vaccinations. There has been only one human death by rabies since DAR started its program. In 2009, DAR sent staff to be trained in humane dog catching and sterilisation surgeries. In mid 2009, DAR began it’s mass sterilization and vaccination program. By 2015, over 2000 sterilisation surgeries were performed and twice that number vaccinated for rabies.
Rakkar is an agricultural village inhabited by the shepherd community called the Gaddi and the shepherds often bring their animals and dogs to DAR for treatment, as well as strays they find injured. The local mountain dogs are fearless and very protective of their homes and sometimes attack or get killed by leopards! Says Deb, “Our new rescue looks so much like a wolf, we named her Lupus, after the scientific name for wolf, canis lupis. She is from the Lungta Valley near where a water project is going on.
During the winter, the leopards come down from the mountains to the valleys to get food. Sometimes they happen to be dogs. Luckily for Lupus, the laborers at the project saw her being attacked by the leopard and started screaming. The leopard got scared and ran away, but not without leaving an awful mark. We’re treating her wound and are optimistic for her recovery.” Many local families from Rakkar, Fatehpur and Khaniyara adopt strays and dogs rescued by DAR. Yogi, a cute pup found trembling in the street, was adopted by a family in Lunta Village. Adds Deb, “There is this guy who lives in Khaniyara, he found this dog, who he named Bissi, in Palampur when he was just a puppy. Now the dog is 4 years old, he says Bissi is like God to him, he worships him everyday, and the dog sleeps with him, eats breakfast, lunch, and dinner with him. Wherever he goes, Bissi follows. Without him, he would be devastated. Many people tell him he is crazy to be so obsessed with a dog, but he doesn’t care. We think it is great to meet a local who loves dogs as much as we do. Unfortunately, Bissi got sick so he brought him to us and we gave him treatment and hope he will get better soon.” Some dogs from DAR are also adopted by western volunteers and tourists who visit Dharamsala. Deb adds, “We found Ricky Lee sitting between two men on a bench one day on our drive to work. She was so tiny and clearly had rickets! We luckily found a foster home with our good friend Ronny in Dharamsala who could feed her lots of good food, and keep her warm. Our Mobile Clinic went to Ronny’s house daily to give her vitamins to boost her immunity and to wrap her legs. Slowly she started to improve! Everyone who met her fell in love with her. After posting her story on Facebook, a Canadian family decided they wanted to take her to Vancouver! She now lives on a big farm with two more desi dogs!
Says Deb, “If you sponsor an Indian Dog, you get a friend for life. All the details of the many other ways you can also help our dogs are on our website. If you welcome an Indian Dog from DAR into your life, your new pal will send you a welcome note and three updates a year! You can also sponsor a dog for someone else too. It’s a great gift for any dog-lover!” She says people can also help by volunteering to groom, feed, walk and train the dogs at DAR. They can help prepare their food, make sure each dog has a clean cage and blanket and do basic treatments like dressing change, fluid administration, etc.
They can also help raise funds, teach their staff computers, help translate brochures, make compost, take photos and write stories on DAR which they can post on social media and help in general housework like cleaning, laundry, cooking and making tea! All volunteers must be 18 years or older. Medical Volunteers must have completed three years of Vet school.
To become a volunteer you can download the DAR application form from their website, dharamsalaanimalrescue.org and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dharamsala Animal Rescue is a registered Trust in India. You can donate on their website and by cheque. Their address is Rakkar Village, Dharamsala, 176057, Himachal Pradesh. Contact: email@example.com or 09882858631.