Why I sorta kinda gave up on the animal shelter
…but NEVER on animals obvi
I never talk about my experiences with the animal shelter. This is for one reason and one reason alone — there are haters. Haters for the shelter, haters for the work I do and haters for me personally and they’re not only on social media but actively looking to poke around into others’ affairs. On the one hand I do not want to write anything that will be construed as ‘inside information’ and be used to increase the suffering of the animals, which everything inevitably ends up doing. On the other, I also don’t want to give fodder to randos who cannot digest their food unless it’s with a nice helping of negativity and bitterness. So, I stay quiet and do what I do. Along the same lines, today is no different. I am not going to talk about anything specific to the shelter itself but about my experiences and my personal takeaways from that stint, and nothing else.
Some of you might know that aside from volunteering with the animal shelter in Noida for many years I took on the responsibilities of a Deputy manager there during the first year of the pandemic. It was an unpaid ‘job’ and to be fair they did offer me a stipend of 15000 a month (I know it’s beyond peanuts, but they could not afford anything more), I took the stipend amount twice, and gave it back in full to buy blankets and boris for the dogs during winters. Then I just told them to not bother because I didn’t feel right taking money from a shelter that could not raise the salaries of the employees who were working full time and dealing with all sorts of challenges without the promise of a better tomorrow. I continued to work as a Deputy from August 2020 till about March 2021, when things got truly scary due to the second wave.
In that time, I not only started my campaign to improve the shelter cattery but also manage the OPD affairs, oversee treatment units and cleanliness, help out in social media coverage, and do fundraisers and donation campaigns for the animals. I had been working on cat adoptions and fosters anyway, but because I was working so closely with all the dogs, I also started working on dog adoptions, which was met with intense backlash and resistance so much so that it was one of the primary reasons I had to bow out to prioritise my own mental health and sanity. It was ugly. I’ve never encountered a worse group of people, nor have I been exposed to the particular viciousness of “animal welfare” people, and guys, if you haven’t met one, you’re not missing out on anything, trust me. Even after exiting the scenario, I walked around wrapped in a pall of ‘awful’, feeling cheated, short-changed, and embittered by the whole thing and excruciatingly saddened knowing that I could have helped a large group of animals had I been able to do things my way. So, anyway.
I thought today I will at least write about the reasons why I, while being devoted to cats (and animals on the whole) still, I choose to do my work on the outside.
1. Due to the many, many incidents that I had with truly awful people, for the first time in my entire life I had started using the Hindi ‘ch’ word (the obscenity). I admit that I am no saint and am a famous potty-mouth but that is in English and that is a choice. Hindi hits different. I have carefully chosen to not be someone spouting such awful verbiage just because I cannot control myself or I think it’s edgy/cool. Every time I said it, I flinched inwards. Ever since I stopped going, I have seen the hideous word petering out of my lexicon and I’m equal parts ashamed that I let myself get influenced that way and amused that it was still easy enough to fall back into my anglicised sailor-mouthed comfort.
2. On similar lines, I had become brash, rude, insolent, ill-tempered, easily angered, and volatile. Again, admittedly, that change did reflect more on my ability to become that way so quickly, but in my sincere defence, my mental health has not been at its best for several years now, and today I find myself affected, influenced, and impacted more easily by things that earlier I wouldn’t have given two hoots about. I’m more fragile and more acutely aware of my surroundings, and while that means good things in some ways, in terms of the animal shelter work, it only meant that my guards were up, my hackles risen and my walls mile high.
All this led to my getting rather angry at small little things that many times did not warrant it. I was starting to get into arguments that to which I did not see an end. People that were unimportant, transient to my work and daily life, just small burdens on my psyche and this earth, were ‘getting to me’ like they were my cousins asking for drug money. The more I let myself loose, the wider my proclivity to engage with such energies became. It wasn’t until I was getting upset at just my phone ringing with an unknown number that I took stock of just how my baseline mood had shifted from disinterested (and not ‘uninterested’, please note the difference) to actively irate.
The other day, I received a call at 1.34 pm, just as I was about to put the first morsel of my lunch into my mouth. It was an unknown number. I answered, someone had a cat they had begun caring for and which was unwell. I gave them some initial pointers, told them to text me for more information, and thanked them for caring for a stray. A few days later I got a message from them saying my timely help enabled them to get the cat diagnosed with panleukopenia and get treated just in time and the cat is going to be fine. We discussed her vaccination and spaying in time and just like that it turned into a success story. This would have gone down very differently 18 months ago. Very.
3. People saw me as a cash cow and it was starting to border on extortion. Initially, it was a few hundred rupees here and there, or jokingly asking me for a party/treat for this and for that but pestering me enough that I would give in and buy lunch for them. This in itself was a big expense, and I hated it more so because it was on people and I just…I just don’t value people enough to spend on them. But I did it to keep people happy and cooperative — a mercenary solution to a severely capitalist problem. Then it escalated to people asking me to borrow thousands. Idiot that I am, and a sucker for a good sad story, I gave. I lent a couple of people money, and I am still asking two of the three borrowers for my money back.
They did not even pay me back when I told them that I had lost my actual, paying job earlier last year. To say that it was an eye-opener would be a gross understatement. Incidentally, the only person to pay me back quickly and in full was this driver guy who was always dismissed by everyone as a drunk and unreliable. Goes to show, right?
Well, this benevolent benefactor thing became too much for me to handle and I had to stop, and when I did, a few little turds had the audacity to accost me for having an iPhone and using a 3000-rupee helmet for 7-minute-long Uber bike rides. There were also added expenses there for tea, since I didn’t want to do away with my regular tea/coffee habits and had taken my little kettle, sugar, and tea bags. A box of 100 teabags was finished in 12 days. And this happened many times over till I said if they wanted to drink tea, they were welcome to buy their own or compensate me for the materials. Then it stopped.
4. Compassion fatigue had set in. Hard. If you’ve been reading about pandemic-related and covid-induced exhaustion faced by frontline and essential workers, you would have come across this term already. And of course, I would never dare to compare what I felt to what people on the frontlines have had to face in the last 30 months or so. Absolutely never. At the same time, all suffering is valid and what I suffered through was valid for me, and difficult for me too. The endless barrage of people bringing in a beloved pet to abandon, leave at the shelter for treatment or even get treated for free was something I had started dreading. The daily grind of arguing with people who wanted to abandon dogs and cats compounded by the inescapable sadness of watching beautiful purebred dogs suffer and sometimes die** in a shelter riddled with all manners of infection and disease had become my personal hell. And because I gave a shit, the staff would just usher me towards all such visitors and watch me fight my way to a loss nine times out of ten. **Do not ask me why these dogs do not get adopted. That is a topic I cannot and will not touch upon because there are no good/correct/truthful answers there. Just hurt.
5. Specifically, cat adoptions had started to suck ass. The countless failed adoptions were doing my head in. There is a limit to how many times you can request, appeal (and if you can believe it, fund) adopters who are just not good people. I hit that limit many times over and to abate the abuse I was doling out to myself by the ladlefuls, I had to step away and say no.
6. Because my personal phone number was now property of the shelter (in theory and that was worse) it was handed out freely to anyone who asked. This led to people texting me at midnight saying ‘kittan h???????’ followed by an aggressive ‘hlo???????’ (fuckwit code for ‘I would like to adopt a kitten, do you have any?’) and calling me at 2, 3 and 4 am asking if I could come have a look at a stray dog who was injured or their pet cat who wasn’t eating for three days. These are all true cases and these aren’t the only ones. I had people curse me in Hindi (and if you’ve been reading, you know how deep that would have cut) saying I was a fat bitch who said something and did something else. I was given curses on my actual birthday because a lady decided that the paravets had misdiagnosed a dog with distemper and also decided to let me have the worst of her ire because the paravets told her to take the complaint to the manager. The volume of calls and texts for misguided and frankly entitled ‘reasons’ not only took away precious time from my days when I was not at the shelter and wanted to relax, work or just be still, they also made me feel like I was getting the worst of humanity in direct contact with my personal space and environment. I was feeling polluted.
To that point, if you are in touch with me and have received one or other automated response to a WhatsApp, you can thank the group above. But also, WhatsApp Business is a lifesaver for someone like me — someone who likes to maintain a 10am-6pm work time, creates a distance between work and life on the weekends (after working weekends for almost 13 years straight) and who feels no obligation to be constantly online and reply instantly unless deemed urgent. So, that’s not going anywhere in the foreseeable future.
7. This last one is similar to point two above but is…grander…if you catch my drift. Animal welfare might be a rich people’s game in India, but animal aid and rescue still falls down to the lower income groups and underprivileged migrant workers. Thus, the kind of people one would generally come into contact with at such places would also be from a certain cadre in society. Without being indelicate or casting aspersions on any grouping or class (for we do indeed lived in a classed society and if you want to have a discussion with me about that, buy the good whiskey for sure, because I’ll drink fast and we won’t be there long at all) I would say that my speech had become…rough. Not cursing, no. Just a less refined, less dignified way of talking; couple that with the fact that every time my phone rang or I saw someone approach the gates with a gorgeous pit bull or German shepherd on a leash it shot my blood pressure up, and what you have is an irate, smack-talking, coarse-mannered woman whose only claim to a good education was her business card. I was very aware of how I was starting to sound and it was worrying.
Please don’t take this to mean that I am some pretentious hoity-toity madame who wears a lot of crèmes and whites and raises her pinkie while sipping tea. I’m nowhere near that. BUT. I am conscious of how I appear and come across, as one should be. In a civilised society, where quick glances determine long associations, appearances matter and I have always said that I like keeping up appearances. I learned this from my grandmother who also kept her business to herself and found no reason to wear her heart on her sleeve for all to see. I like it that way too, because and even though it was difficult to do when I was troubled with depression and jazz, it was also the one instinct that acted like a catalyst pushing me to do better to and for myself.
So, I had to take stock of who I was becoming and stop the transformation when I still could.
I will continue to work for community cats, driving spay-neuter projects and sponsoring as many as I personally can. I will continue to give my best to the animals I come across and spread awareness about essential aspects of animal welfare. This will never change. One day I will adopt even more cats and also dogs (because they are just ❤) and maybe hawks, and chicken and what not. But for now, I am resigning to earning better, living simpler, saving up for some cat-related projects and wishing the shelter well from a safe distance. As much as it hurts me to say it, it is most definitely not a place where I found shelter for my delicate, tender soul.