Kochi gets a new animal rescue centre

Sajith Shajan, founder of Animal Rescue Kochi, feeds the street dogs at Willingdon Island and rescues injured animals

“These dogs know me and my car. They love me,” says Sajith Shajan, who has been feeding street dogs at Willingdon Island, Kochi, since March 2020. “The lockdown has resulted in starvation for these dogs.” Every night, Sajith drives up from his home in Thoppumpady with food (rice, chicken and biscuits) and feeds around 250 dogs a day. “The dogs hide during the day and are afraid of the police and people who drive them away.”

Sajith, who also opened Animal Rescue Kochi (ARK) in October 2020, at Cheppanam in Panangad, found that speeding cars on the empty roads during the lockdown has led to many accidents involving animals, especially dogs. The 30-year-old has also been rescuing injured animals.

His love of animals comes from his father, who he calls his inspiration. Sajith grew up with dogs, cats and poultry at home and trained under Penny Shepherd, an Englishwoman who ran the Mad Dogs Trust in Kochi. When he couldn’t realise his dreams of becoming a veterinary doctor, Sajith pursued para vet training at WorldWide Vet Services (WWVS) in Ooty in 2012 to become a trained veterinary worker.

Sajith Shajan at Animal Rescue Kochi(ARK), an animal shelter opened at Panangad in Kochi, during the pandemic 

After his stint with Mad Dog Trust, he worked in 2013 with Animal Rescue Kerala in Thiruvanthapuram and with Street Dog Watch Association in Kovalam. In 2015, he was part of ‘Mission Rabies,’ a massive vaccination drive for dogs hosted by a UK Charity, in Goa, and helped vaccinate 50,000 dogs. Sajith returned to Kochi in 2019 and began Pet Day Care Services. But when the pandemic struck, he closed it and began rescue services.

The ARK centre on 20 cents at Panangad currently houses 26 dogs, six cats and a calf. It has kennels and an ambulance service. Income is generated by boarding pets and from donations from well-wishers Many animals at the centre are badly injured, blind or need assisted living and are, therefore, permanent boarders. “Most street dogs are spayed, but people dump animals from litters. This tends to increase the numbers on the streets,” says Sajith, adding that breeders dump pedigree dogs once they fall sick. Starting the centre has seen Sajith fulfil a lifelong dream. He now plans to expand the facility to offer hospital services as well.

Currently Cochin Corporation’s ABC (Animal Birth Control) programme at Brahmapuram is suspended due to the pandemic. While animal organisations wait for it to restart Ashwini Prem of Oneness Foundation is worried that the proliferation in dog population will lead to animal-man conflict and subsequently abandonment and culling of dogs. However, she adds that the pandemic has given people more time for pet care and adoptions.

Kochi had around 7,000 – 10,000 street dogs at the start of the pandemic; it has five registered animal care organisations, four private and two government Vet hospitals.

Sajith Shajan can be contacted at 9747773950.

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