Knowledge obtains meaning only when combined with action. With science's recognition that humans and other animals share comparable minds and emotions, we are compelled to translate this knowledge to ethics and everyday living. We call this lived experience trans-species living. Every month we feature an example of people and animals living together that illustrates trans-species living.
The Kerulos Trans-species Living: Insights feature explores the unfolding of this exciting new world where animal and human social justice intersect. Through video clips and interviews, we learn about the challenges and choices that individuals face as they craft lives in partnership with animal kin. The journey into this new culture raises many questions, some controversial. Trans-species Living: Insights provides space for reflective dialogue to ethically serve animals and humans.
Animal Aid Unlimited: Rescue in the Streets of Udaipur, India
Erika, Jim and Claire, founders and managing directors
of Animal Aid.
This issue of Trans-species Living: Insights features Jim Myers and family, and the rescue and shelter they established twelve years ago in India.
Animal Aid Unlimited is a US-based 501(c)(3) charitable organization that runs a busy animal hospital and shelter in Udaipur, Rajasthan, India. In 2000, when Jim and Erika Myers and their daughter Claire were respectively, 59, 41, and 10 years of age, they left their home in Seattle, Washington and ended up establishing a sanctuary in India that could rescue and care for ownerless street animals. To date, they have rescued, healed, and loved 33,000 animals.
In the following essay, Jim describes their trans-species odyssey, how by changing their personal human lives, the lives of thousands of animal kin were transformed from the emptiness of indifference to the heart of recognition.
Jim Myers on the Journey to India
During the latter 1990's our family spent a few months each year as tourists in Udaipur where we lived in guest houses. After hundreds of talks, walks, bicycle rides, train rides, and scooter rides, the idea of a permanent shift to India collectively gathered force. Then, following a series of human and animal family deaths in Seattle the move to India became emotionally and logistically possible. Claire allowed us to take her out of the Seattle school system and begin a home schooling program, I cut back my business consultancy and Erika left her U.S. employment.
We couldn't believe that a country could be so constantly entertaining to all the senses, and be so basically gentle, giving and forgiving. We were living in the biggest circus on earth and the animals didn't have to be trained. And we were in Mother India with charming people and animals at every turn.
But the time of easy-going tourism ended abruptly when we found, or were found by, injured street animals. Animals are omnipresent in Udaipur: dogs lie at your feet in the markets, wandering cows bump into you, donkeys pass bent with their loads in the lanes and alleys, monkeys perch on rooftops, pigs snort in the gutters, goats and chickens and cats scurry for shelter along with mice, rats and the brilliant plumage of spectacular birds. It was a big disappointment when we learned that the regional government veterinary hospitals had no interest in the plight of injured street animals. Government veterinarians limited their care to farm animals, breed dogs, breed horses, and the insemination of cows.
Jim Myers and the Love Stick. (Click image to see
Faced with this reality, we began to seriously investigate and discuss with friends some of the ways street animals could be helped. After talking to many people and researching various social interest groups in this city of half-a-million people, it became clear that there was not a single organization rescuing, treating, or trying to rehabilitate the endless numbers of these homeless animals. So, one momentous day, confronted with our inability to save the life of an injured dog, we could only do one thing: help them. Our compassion for these creatures won out over any temptation to live a more leisurely life.
With this shift in thinking new priorities emerged. For example, learning Hindi became crucial. Then, we needed to find out about the legal aspects of animal rescue. We began to look into laws that relate to forming a Trust or non-profit as well as those pertaining to animal welfare. Coming to grips with the social-political structure of the city was also critical. Many months were spent learning about the actual conditions of the street animals and the causes of their suffering: the grazing cows, working donkeys, the independent monkeys, pigs, cats and the rambling, playing, breeding, feeding, defending, and sleeping dogs.
Our new decision forced us to reflect on two huge questions: how would we re-define our ties with family and friends in Seattle and how would we make a home in India? The first question was part of a long, complex, and continuous unthreading of a life in America. The second question was addressed directly by what amounted to a headlong jump into a small village where we built a home four kilometres out of Udaipur and lived side-by-side with a village family of two parents, five children, and several animals. As far as the village was concerned, our arrival would hardly have been more surprising if we had descended from the sky in the carriage of a balloon!
Taking shelter from the sun.
Photo credit: Animal Aid
Barely settled into our new village life, the family with whom we lived loaned us a small property on the edge of the village where we built our animal hospital. The hospital design was drawn on a piece of paper in an hour: a boundary wall with gate, cages for dogs, a space for donkeys and cows, a preparation room, an operating room, a storage room for medicines, and a kitchen to make food for the animals. Villagers were hired to help. Then, in 2002, over a period of several months, the hospital was built and the words "Animal Aid" in Hindi and English were painted in big letters on the wall of the hospital. A veterinarian was hired, an old Fiat was converted into an ambulance, and a driver was hired. Then, the first dog was rescued, treated, and returned to his home on the street.
It didn't take long for the trickle of work to grow into a stream. But in those days there was only one phone in the village, no one had cell phones, and word of mouth was about the only means of alerting us to injured animals. Within weeks, however, we were treating ten, then fifteen, then twenty animals.
Dr. Deepak treats wound in cow's foot.
Photo credit: Animal Aid
After a year, we hired a second veterinarian and two nurses. We had to train many of them to do tasks that they had never done before such as humanely catching a reluctant dog. We learned how to work together as a good team. Our next big step was to start a badly-needed dog spay-neuter program. Animal Aid truly came of age when an American family funded the purchase of a truck so that donkeys and cows could be more easily rescued from the streets.
As work continued, more and more local people and tourists discovered Animal Aid and asked how they might help. At first, Animal Aid's work was focused on emergency rescue. But it didn't take long for us to find out that it was impossible to even think of returning this blind dog or that crippled donkey to the streets. Animal Aid became a shelter for handicapped animals. The idea that people considered an animal—the value of an animal—as centred on human measures of usefulness and entertainment radically changed us.
Vinod, veterinary nurse, treats abscess under a dog's chin.
Photo credit: Animal Aid Unlimited
Homeless and abused animals were not some isolated phenomenon. Animal Aid realized that to help these animals and stop their abuse, it was necessary to engage and share the problems of injured animals with a community that had allowed street animals to become invisible. We started to invite ourselves to school programs, social organizations, religions functions, and to Udaipur's fourteen police stations to tell the story of struggle, suffering and joy lived out every day on their streets. In 2005, when she was sixteen, Claire made 40 educational presentations to school children. We passed out flyers on the streets.. By then, mobile phones had begun to catch on, and we were able to start a Help Line. As a result, rescue requests began to grow, from one a week, to five a day, then to more than ten a day. Today, more than twenty people phone Animal Aid every day to request help for an injured animal, making Udaipur the highest per capita community participation program in India.
The trickle of activity that had become a stream was now a river. Twelve years from its beginnings, Animal Aid had grown into an organization of thirty-five full time Indians from veterinarians, to cooks to drivers, dog catchers, cleaners, and all-around workers. The bad news was that the budget had grown from pocket change to $10,000 a month. The good news was that this small organization has rescued 33,000 street animals in just over a decade with no help from government sources. Help came from those who cared.
Jigar, before and after rescue.
Photo credit: Animal Aid
By 2009, we had outgrown our lovely village hospital that was perfect for seventy-five animals. We moved three kilometres to a larger space that was able to house and give staff, volunteers, and animals more breathing room. It also gave us a chance to learn from our mistakes and build a better, more animal-friendly hospital and shelter.
In 2012, the three founders, Jim, Erika, and Claire were 71, 56, and 22. Our lives collectively and individually have been turned upside down. Our Seattle home had been sold to bring in needed capital and we were living full-time in India. Claire is fluent in Hindi, Erika is close behind, and I do serious damage to the language. Claire runs the education and ambulance dispatch programs. Erika and I write grants, hire new staff, fund new projects, and give $2,000 a month of our own money while raising $8,000 a month in donations to keep the river running. We live 10 minutes from the hospital. Most days we are at the hospital so all decisions from hiring staff or releasing a donkey are not just managed, they are experienced and felt.
The current in the river of Animal Aid is spiritual in nature. We were vegetarians from the beginning, but it didn't take long for all of us to become animal activists and vegans—meaning, we did not want to cause any animal to work, suffer or die for our benefit. Animal Aid has become a center for compassion where animals are treated, housed, and fed as long as they want to live. Volunteers from around the world visit us in greater numbers to comfort and help these animals. They leave changed.
We had come from Seattle, where healthy dogs and cats were euthanized in the thousands because no one would adopt them, and ended up with Animal Aid having five blind dogs, forty crippled donkeys, many disabled cows and dozens of dogs with paralyzed hind legs—because we wanted to give them a chance to live their own sweet lives.
On any given day, over two hundred and fifty animals live at Animal Aid. There are one hundred permanent residents and 150 under treatment programs that will end with the animals being returned to their homes on the streets. The condensed meaning of Animal Aid can be witnessed in the animals we rescue and heal, and by us, who are rescued and healed by them.
Shakespeare was right, "....love that well which thou must leave ere long."
Valentine and Devilal. Photo credit: Animal Aid Unlimited
Thomas Goodwin, Kerulos intern, blogs about his volunteer work at Animal Aid Unlimited
April 19th, 2012. I head down to the dogs' handicapped area. Jimmy is lying down, head up and bright-eyed. He has good teeth, a full-fluffed red-gold coat and a good coloured tongue. I step over the fences and bend down to pick him up. We have a little wrestle-dance to work out how we are going to proceed. We find it and lift-off – with a squeek and a squirt of pee no doubt - into cradle-pose to step out of the enclosure. I put Jimmy down and I get the scarf under his tummy just in the right place – out the way of plenty of marking opportunities to follow. We get balance on our front feet. The back ones are wobbly and don't really catch the weight so well, so I lift the back from the scarf – we are set.
There are a multitude of different styles employed here. Each dog has their way: a drag, a lumber, a crawl, a lollop and the rest. On first sight, it's so touching, and funny and sad and wondrous all at once. Each and every one is unique, but the most important thing is each and every one goes for it with all they've got and with all they are. They are themselves and no-one else and this demands the highest respect, beyond degree of ability, they are agents in the world, faultless and so beautiful.
We head out, a drunkard pair–awkwardly stop-starting in a chaos of rhythm. No one knows who is steering this ship, not even us, and we couldn't care less. Let's head to the shade of the tree and the bushes.
Arriving here, 30,000 times more possibilities of scent are available for us to share. He sniffs and I am with him. Jimmy bites off half a leaf from the bush, then again, and then some more. This beautiful fragrance comes to me–a kind of sage-mint. I had no idea–I wouldn't eat it myself but he loves it. Thanks for opening that scent door for me Jimmy.
We go on. He attends to the undergrowth and I enjoy a welcome breeze to counter this desert air. I watch the ants pass back and forth along a branch, he goes for the donkey dropping.
And when we need to leave our own scent mark, we find the position, I re-arrange the scarf and he lets loose. I don't know if accuracy is important for dogs when leaving scent. Ours won't be very concentrated but it will definitely be original. No doubt who's that is, they'll say.
His feathered tail sways and my face smiles, our hearts free. We head back. We stutter and stumble, but the most amazing thing about all of this–is that we do it together–me and Jimmy Superfly.