While the COVID-19 pandemic brought about some of the darkest and most challenging periods that we as the human race have endured recently, its effects were not ours to face alone. The chaos caused by the pandemic and nationwide lockdowns significantly impacted the country’s free-roaming animal populations too. In particular, dogs and cats who have increasingly relied on our presence and support.
Empty streets and emptier stomachs
With the first lockdown, we saw the country coming to a standstill. The streets were suddenly emptied of daily neighbourhood feeders and compassionate street vendors, and even food leftovers from restaurants and grocery stores weren’t available. Our furry companions were left to fend for themselves all at once and practically overnight while also trying to make sense of their newly abandoned surroundings. Although perhaps grateful for the new-found command over their localities and beyond, the threat of hunger would soon overshadow all else. While we were struggling to deal with a virus-driven pandemic, these animals, without human intervention, would soon be on the brink of a hunger pandemic.
Preventing a hunger pandemic during a global pandemic
Realising the imminent fate ahead for our Indie dogs and cats, with alternate food sources rendered inaccessible for the foreseeable future, individuals and welfare organisations immediately stepped in. Amidst all the chaos and uncertainty, and while attempting to navigate the extensive rules and regulations in place, we banded together for our four-legged friends. A nationwide campaign was initiated through social media to raise awareness about the situation, collect funds, and urge citizens unaffected by COVID to contribute in any way they could.
Almost within the first few weeks of the initial lockdown, feeding stations were set up in different localities and at various locations like public parks, street corners and residential areas throughout the country — places the animals could easily access. Brave volunteers – taking all necessary precautions yet risking their well-being – went on rotation to distribute nutritious food and clean water to these designated areas. We also witnessed numerous individuals ramp up their efforts by preparing home-cooked meals for their local animals and distributing them daily.
Even local authorities and law enforcement officials, who initially rejected special requests for movement, eventually began to cooperate and aid these programs by issuing feeder passes to those involved.
However, these initiatives were not without their share of roadblocks. First, we had to overcome the rather dire issue of sourcing feed and fodder. Given the widespread panic that ensued, farmers were reluctant to leave their homes and work on the fields. We had no other option than to head into the fields and harvest the produce ourselves. Then, when baseless reports of coronavirus linkage to animals began circulating, volunteers and regular feeders faced opposition from their neighbours. Some even went so far as to threaten to poison local animals. The nightmare didn’t end there. Much to our disbelief and dismay, people worldwide began abandoning their pets by the thousands out of fear of contracting the virus. The load on shelters and animal welfare organisations only increased when they were called upon to house these now-homeless pets. The Friendicoes sanctuary alone took in over 150 pets during the first few months of the pandemic.
Needless to say, it was a challenge to distribute resources – both monetary and human power – between all these new responsibilities, that too during a pandemic. However, with volunteers and donors coming through and each organisation’s perseverance, we did what had to be done. Friendicoes alone was able to consistently feed over 2000 dogs and cats across Delhi and Noida during the lockdowns while also initiating feeding programs for nilgais, monkeys, cows and other larger animals found in our vicinity.
The aftermath and the silver lining
Initiated as a temporary solution to serve a time of crisis, these feeding programs that took shape have survived well through the pandemic and its multiple lockdowns and are still going strong. Three years down the line, they are now conducted as organised programs by animal welfare organisations. Born out of the extreme state of affairs during COVID, they soon went beyond catering to the need of the hour and translated into providing regularised, well-balanced, and healthy meals to dogs and cats. Although unfortunate that it took such a drastic situation to be implemented at scale, it was reaffirming to see how people came together, united by a purpose and a sense of shared responsibility, to support our animals in their time of need. Earlier, a lack of resources and the presence of alternate sources of sustenance came in the way of executing this widespread nutrition support that went beyond those already under the care of an organisation. The pandemic, in a way, created a dire situation that made it imperative to establish a more sustainable plan for feeding animals. In this case, we suppose, the saying holds true – every cloud does have a silver lining.
Support the Friendicoes mission to feed
Even now, we feed over 1200 dogs and cats in Delhi NCR. If you would like to play a part in ensuring that your furry friends are well-fed, we’re always grateful for donations that can help us sustain our efforts for the community. If you’re interested, donate to Friendicoes here. A full belly and a wagging tail will thank you 🙂