On an isolated stretch of land on the banks of Jhelum River in Srinagar, a baby donkey stands in a pen eating straw. He’s been nursed back to health by staff at the first – and only – animal rescue center in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Weeks earlier, on a February freezing morning, the wailing noise from the donkey, called Musy, abandoned with a broken leg, had woken residents in the city’s upmarket housing estate. They knew who to contact.
Dawood Mohammad, who founded Animal Rescue Kashmir, took Musy back to the center in Rambagh, which is now home to about 150 animals.
With a staff of seven, assisted by scores of volunteers, the center has been raising awareness of animal rights since it opened two years ago.
“The whole idea is to inspire people for animal rights in Kashmir,” says Mohammed as he treats an injured dog brought to the centre. “We started with rescue field trips before floating the animal helpline number and the animal facility centre.”
Mohammad saw the need for a centre, which he runs with his wife, Mariya Mushtaq, when the couple returned to Kashmir in 2015 after a few years living in London and saw a paralyzed puppy abandoned on the street. They took the puppy in because they realized there was nowhere else for it to go.
“After attending to abandoned animals on the street for three years, we finally decided to establish this centre,” Mushtaq says. “It was taken well by civil society [groups] conscious of animal rights and they help spread the word.”
Fundraising for animal welfare proved difficult, and the couple run the center with money from their clothing business. Monthly expenses come to at least 2 lakh rupees (about £2,000).
The center is built on two acres of land, dotted with trees, including staff quarters. The animals live in pens in one corner and are free to roam outside. In one pen stands an old horse with a bandaged leg.
“It’s so heartbreaking to see these animals, especially horses, being abandoned in their sick and senile stage of lives,” Mushtaq says.
Himalayan horses, abandoned because they are lame, are left to roam, she says, and many end up losing limbs after being hit by cars. “Sadly, while the native horses face indifference, the high-breed stallions … have become new showpieces in Kashmir.
“We’ve rescued more than 1,000 animals so far,” Mushtaq adds, while applying antiseptic to an injured dog’s paw. “We’ve mainly rescued dogs, as their population is huge in Kashmir. In the capital, Srinagar, there are around 70,000 dogs.”
Since the pandemic, the center has been at the forefront of a new trend in the region to adopt pets. “After reading about the power of pets in warding off loneliness, people decided to adopt, and have markedly increased pet culture in Kashmir,” Mohammad says.
About 450 of the centre’s animals have been adopted so far, mainly by young people. “People mostly prefer to adopt cats,” he says.
The couple are now trying to attract outside funds to upgrade the facilities. “We’re counting on the public support to create an empathetic change [in attitudes] towards these poor creatures,” Mohammad says. “They deserve our attention and care.”
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