12 years ago, RESQ began as a dream: a vision that was propelled forward thanks to an amazing community and a team that refused to give up. Here’s how it all started...
My name is Neha, and I’m the Founder of RESQ Charitable Trust: an NGO that works to reduce unnecessary suffering for all animals, both domestic and wild, and promote peaceful coexistence between people and animals. Now, I know what you’re thinking -- those are some ambitious goals! Well, here’s the thing -- RESQ didn’t spring up from thin air to become one of India’s largest animal rescue NGOs overnight. Our journey seems so unbelievable to some people, and I often get asked about how a single non-profit with no financial support from the government has now come to help over 60,000 animals every year. While that’s a loaded question in and of itself, as I look back, I find that the answer is quite straightforward... which is why although the animals whose welfare I work towards have taught me more lessons than I can count, today, I’d like to talk about the people who came together to form a community, and how a very small group of people came to make an enormous difference. All they had to do was dream big, come together, and refuse to give up.
But first, let me tell you a little about how RESQ came to be.
12 years ago, my friend Tanya and I found a dog that was suffering from end-stage viral distemper. The next few hours flew by in a haze as we frantically contacted pet clinics in the hopes that someone, somewhere, would help a stray animal. Sadly, the dog didn’t receive medical help for more than 18 hours and eventually died. Back in 2007, there were no other entities conducting hands-on rescue for animal emergencies on the streets of Pune. In this situation, it was very difficult -- even for a person who may have felt empathetic towards an injured or sick animal that was suffering on the streets -- to actually do something, because there were no on-site ambulances or medical rescue teams to call for help. But like so many defining moments in life -- those singular, life-altering moments that stem from one harrowing experience -- this dog’s death was the catalyst. It was the push we needed to do something bigger. Rather than pointing fingers at the lack of help available, we felt that it was time to be a part of the solution… and that’s exactly what we did.
(Image courtesy: RESQ Charitable Trust)
We began as an on-site rescue service, and by that I mean we would provide treatment to injured and sick stray animals on the street itself. We started out as a team of 2 people with 1 car, 1 telephone, and basic First-Aid knowledge. People from all over the city would call and report injured animals to us on the phone, and we would do whatever we could to help. We were a very small operation back then and we didn’t even have any space to admit animals for treatment, and although our work may have been considered a drop in the ocean, we felt it was a drop nonetheless -- something rather than nothing in the face of so much unnecessary animal suffering. Given that there was virtually no one else engaging in hands-on rescue at the time, word began to spread, and soon enough, I noticed more and more people coming forward to help us -- be it through donating money, sending in useful items like dog food, physically volunteering to help us cope with the enormous case-load, or sharing our posts on social media to help spread the word. Even bystanders who knew nothing about our organisation would offer to help when we were in the middle of a rescue!
Volunteers at RESQ (Image courtesy: RESQ Charitable Trust)
Given the sheer number of animal cruelty cases I come across every month, it’s easy to grow somewhat disillusioned when you’re in my line of work… but RESQ has steered me in quite the opposite direction. It has helped reinforce my faith in the knowledge that, although we live in a world where animal cruelty is a pervading issue, we are also surrounded by compassionate people who genuinely want to help -- all they need is an avenue for it, and something to help them believe that giving up is no longer an option. Over the years, I’m so happy to say that RESQ has come to serve as exactly that: an avenue that has enabled people to help animals, and in the process, become part of a community. This is why to me, one of the most inspiring things about the work I do is the people involved -- whether it’s volunteers, staff, or even individuals who see our posts on social media and feel compelled to help. Every day, people contact the RESQ Helpline to report cases of injured animals, to see if they can adopt an animal in need, to ask us if there is anything we need to help us touch more animal lives every day. These people are doctors, entrepreneurs, homemakers, lawyers, college students, watchmen, teachers, bhajjiwallahs -- these people form the wave that helps propel positive change.
But we weren’t done yet.
We soon realised that rescuing animals alone was not enough. In a city like Pune, which is home to lakhs upon lakhs of stray animals, we realised that proactive measures and awareness efforts were vital to promoting the coexistence we so passionately strived for. An animal and human cannot realistically coexist if the former is sick and diseased and lashing out in pain, and if the latter is ill-informed and lashing out in fear. At this point, it would’ve been so easy to say -- “well, we’re an animal rescue organisation. Education is not what we signed up for!”. As I look back today, I’m so thankful that my team and I had the courage and fortitude to once again, rather than simply point fingers at the issue, choose instead to be a part of the solution.
Educating the youth of today for a brighter, better tomorrow... (Image courtesy: RESQ Charitable Trust)
Armed with information, community support, and no small measure of dogged determination, our small team began to conduct comprehensive Education and Awareness initiatives for both children and adults in rural and urban environments alike. In order to tackle the problem at hand with the right information, we also joined hands with a Bangalore-based research organisation to conduct Pune city’s first scientifically-backed stray dog census. Once we gained a clearer understanding of the city’s canine population, we were then able to launch an intensive rabies vaccination and surveillance programme called RESQ Against Rabies. Rabies can infect both animals and humans, and although it is fatal once contracted, it is also 100% preventable if one has taken the necessary vaccinations. Given that no one else in the city was tackling the rabies epidemic through education or preventive measures at the time, we decided to launch a programme to help educate people about rabies and provide free vaccinations for stray dogs -- that way, an animal would not be diseased and in pain, and a human being would be neither fearful nor ignorant, thereby eliminating the possibility of human-animal conflict to some degree. As of this moment, RESQ serves as Pune’s only canine rabies testing centre, and I’m hopeful that by 2020, this same passionate, determined approach will help Pune become the country’s first rabies-free city!
(Image courtesy: RESQ Charitable Trust)
Even as I write these words now, I realise how crazy it might sound -- the fact that a single dog’s unfortunate death led us to touch so many lives, both human and animal… but then, that’s the power of belief, isn’t it? We started small, driven by one single, all-encompassing desire to make a difference… and with the right vision, unrelenting dedication and determination, we were able to build momentum and achieve things we could once only dream of.
Every time we came across an obstacle, rather than throwing our hands up and saying -- “oh well, we tried our best” -- we choose instead to look at the issue from another angle, reach out to other people for help, and never lose sight of our goal which was to make a difference, no matter how small the impact. Two things I always tell people: one, dream big; and two: never, ever give up… and that’s how we approached every hurdle that came our way. Too many people not able to reach us on our helpline because it’s always ringing and constantly busy? Okay, go back to the drawing board and create a web-based platform so that people can instantly report animal emergencies online. Abandoned pet dogs in need of help? Formulate a plan, train a team, and start a dedicated programme to rehabilitate and rehome abandoned animals. Too many injured wild birds and animals unable to get the kind of medical help they need? Call the Forest Department and work together to create the change you want to see.
I am always somewhat taken aback at the thought of just how much we’ve grown in only 12 years. We went from providing First-Aid to stray dogs on the road to having a full-fledged Wildlife Transit Centre to properly treat and rehabilitate injured and orphaned wildlife, training programmes for both government and private veterinarians to help raise animal healthcare standards in Maharashtra, and even a dedicated animal rescue team in Lonavala! By trusting my own instincts as well as the people around me, today, I am able to make a difference for animals on a much larger scale by collaborating with governmental entities like the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and even the Fire Brigade. While RESQ as a single organisation is able to respond to 800 animal rescue emergencies every month, by working together with other entities, I am now able to influence policies and implementation work that affects virtually lakhs of animals. We do this by conducting training programmes with government veterinarians as part of the State Level Training Centre course mandated by the Department of Animal Husbandry in Maharashtra. Through this, can make a positive ground-level impact on a larger scale than ever before, because we are now able to influence veterinary standards not just in our own city, but across the whole State! We also conduct training sessions to help personnel within the Maharashtra Forest Department understand how to better respond to wildlife conflict and rescue situations, and organise specialised training programmes to help the Pune Fire Department understand animal behaviour under stress, the right kind of rescue gear required for specific rescue situations, and encourage them to liaise with local NGOs in order to get animals in distress the help they need. As a single organisation, there is only so much we can do... but by sharing our knowledge with other organisations and individuals, I really believe that we can empower a greater number of people to make a difference for animals in need.
(Image courtesy: RESQ Charitable Trust)
With this approach, what once started as a small drop in the ocean has now turned into an unstoppable wave of positive impact, and it is thanks to people like you -- individuals who see what we are doing, who want to help, and who support our relentless dedication to making a difference. When you look at the RESQ logo, you’ll see what looks like two human hands coming together to form a likeness of a bird. "Joining hands to provide freedom for animals from unnecessary suffering" is the very reason why RESQ began 12 years ago, and today, I feel privileged to be sharing our journey with you -- the next generation that, just like me, I hope, will continue to dream big. Dream crazy. And never, ever give up.