Category: community dogs


Just as they did during the lockdown a year ago, Blue Cross has been giving thousands of meals every day to the street dogs in Chennai, in the south of India.

During normal times, many street dogs hang out around tea shops and restaurants where customers give them handouts. During the lockdown these businesses have all been closed, and the dogs have been left with no source of food, so the feeding by the Blue Cross volunteers has saved their lives.

Chefs to the rescue

This has been a huge undertaking. Blue Cross has coordinated cooking the food – dog food in India is cooked and is a healthy mixture of rice and other nutritional ingredients and supplements. They have worked with chefs in restaurants and hotels who have volunteered to cook the food. When the restaurants were closed, the chefs came in every day especially to do this, while Blue Cross provided the ingredients. This has been a very large expense for them – around $600 every day, and this is in addition to feeding the one thousand or so animals who they care for, at any given time, at their main shelter.

Blue Cross has organized many dozens of volunteers to distribute the food to the dogs; some of these kind people also feed the dogs during normal times, but now it’s risen to a whole new level. They also bring along food for cows and other animals out on the street. Last year Blue Cross was able to arrange an understanding with the police for the dog feeders to be out on the street during the lockdown, and this has continued this year. In some cases the police themselves have helped with the feeding.

A native breed

Most of the street dogs in India are a native breed of “All-India” dogs that arose naturally and was not “bred.” They are of medium height, with short fur and ears pointing up. For thousands of years they have existed in Indian cities. They tend to be shy, quiet, and very adept at crossing the street while avoiding traffic. They are quite used to being out on the street. The five thousand or so humane shelters in India do not and have never rounded up the street dogs to kill them in shelters. It would not have occurred to them to do so. They simply help those animals who are injured or in distress.

In 1964, Blue Cross of India began the first, continuously running, spay/neuter program in the entire world. This program has been going ever since and has never stopped; it paused only briefly during the two lockdowns for the pandemic. It is efficient and effective and is known as the ABC program because, as Blue Cross’s co-founder and chairman emeritus, Dr Chinny Krishna, says, “It is as simple as ABC.”

A long history of helping street dogs

The ABC program has always included rabies vaccinations, which have brought rabies under control throughout the city of Chennai (and eliminated it entirely during several years), saving the lives of both animals and people.

The ongoing, dedicated work of Blue Cross caring for the street dogs of Chennai has had a powerful influence on the care of dogs and other animals in cities all over India – although India has traditionally, true to their culture and philosophy – been a land which values kindness towards all animals. The ABC program maintains a steady, stable population of the dogs, who are calm and well habituated to their neighborhoods, where they can live peacefully for many years.

In addition, Blue Cross runs a very active ambulance rescue service for animals in distress, helping many thousands of dogs and other animals each year. Dogs found on the street who have formerly been pets are taken to the Blue Cross shelter and placed in the adoption program to find loving homes.

Please help Blue Cross, if you can. They have undertaken the monumental task of feeding the street dogs during this time when they have had no regular source of food. A little goes a long way. Bless you and thank you.

Photos: Velu, Blue Cross of India

By Tyag Krishnamurthy
Honorary Joint Secretary – Blue Cross of India
Board member – Forest Voices of India

Hunger has no pause button. Blue Cross of India perhaps had its busiest two months ever, starting at the end of March 2020 when the first of several lockdowns started. The entire ecosystem that street animals in India depend on for survival was upended by the lockdown. Their primary source of food – streetside eateries, restaurant discards and the largesse of passers-by disappeared overnight. To avert starvation on the streets, Blue Cross started a street animal feeding program the very next day of the lockdown announcement. The feeding program was internally code named ‘Karuna’ and the name struck a chord. ‘Karuna’ means ‘compassion’ in Sanskrit. The program was very critical, and so it was started despite a severe staff and funding shortage (as Blue Cross ran the rescue team, shelter, and hospital with less than 40% staff – all camped inside Blue Cross, while continuing to pay all the staff who were non-residents and unable to come in everyday).

At the end of the Karuna program (June 1, 2020), Blue Cross of India had cooked and helped serve over 100,000 meals to street animals (primarily dogs but many cats, cows and horses too), potentially averting mass starvation. Our feeding program started the second day of the lockdown and has covered many areas in the city. Till May 17th, the peak of the program, four batches of food were cooked every day. In total about 3,000 meals were cooked fresh every day while following strict hygiene and health safety protocols. We created overnight what we call the most critical ‘last mile’ – a network of citizen feeders, who became the backbone of this program in what has emerged as one of the best examples of deep community participation to care for animals in a crisis of unprecedented magnitude. At peak we had 150 citizen feeders.

The Karuna program also galvanized many new citizens to think about the starving animals, and many such pitched in with food cooked in their own homes, on days when Blue Cross was unable to provide meals. With the easing up of lockdown since May 17th and opening of most areas, we have now ramped down, but continue to feed in those non-residential areas which are still not open.

Volunteers step up

Vignesh, an animal lover from Tiruverkadu ranks at the top of the Blue Cross list of citizen community feeders. He has fed over 8,300 animals from the food donated by the Blue Cross since the initiative began the day after the lockdown. Kind-hearted people like Vignesh, Devi (in Ambattur, feeding over 5,800 animals) and Sowmya (in Puzhudivakkam, feeding 5,300 animals) have been the backbone of a long list of 150 citizen community feeders.

Aaditya, a resident of Tambaram who was home-cooking and feeding street animals in his neighborhood, started as a community feeder. After just a few days he signed up as a full-time volunteer for the Blue Cross and has spent entire days distributing food on one of the four routes operated. He says, “I thought to myself – if it was so tough for me to cook and feed 50 animals, how complex it would be for the Blue Cross to do this for thousands! So, I decided to help.” Many new volunteers like Shrey and Bhargav signed up during the peak time of the program to help, while other long-time volunteers like Neelakantan and Vaijayanthi have been regularly helping with food distribution.

150 citizen feeders

Vinod Kumar, General Manager – Admin, Blue Cross of India, says, “On the day of the lockdown, the first thing we did was to change our helpdesk announcement, urging callers to feed the strays on their streets. Our feeding program started the second day of the lockdown and has now covered many areas in the city.” At the peak of the program that lasted till May 17th, four batches of food were cooked every day – Hotel Green Park helped with one batch, while the in-house team at Blue Cross’s Guindy campus cooked the other three batches including one for the 1,800 odd shelter animals. In total about 3,000 meals were cooked fresh every day while following strict hygiene and health safety protocols. “Much of this is made possible with the support of our donors and patrons like Help Animals India based in Seattle USA, Four Paws International, HCL Foundation and local support from Aavin, Jain International Trade Organization, Aranya Foundation and Tamil Nadu Animal Welfare Board, who have donated in kind,” adds Vinod.

Velu TM, Manager – Special Operations and one of the key people in the field says, “We initially began feeding animals ourselves, in non-residential localities, but realized it will not be feasible to cover more areas with our limited personnel. We created a network to help, with over 150 citizen feeders, who we supply the food to every day on four different routes that cover many localities of Chennai. At its peak the reach of the feeding program spread as far as Puzhal Lake area in the north, Tiruverkadu in the west, Sholinganallur along Old Mahabalipuram Road and Selayiur/Tambaram in the south. Some community feeders also pitched in with food cooked in their home, on days when we’re unable to provide meals.”

Cooking and more cooking

Dawn William, General Manager – Disaster Management and Rescues who was managing the back-end cooking at Blue Cross says: “Our day started at 3 am as we had to cook many batches, load up, leave early and finish distribution/feeding before it gets too hot outside. Our kitchen ran without a break for nearly 50 days of peak demand as we need to care for and feed the hospital and shelter animals in Blue Cross too with very limited manpower. We never thought we could muster the manpower or the cooking capacity to pull off this operation, but every available employee and volunteer stepped up; every available resource went into dealing with this emergency.”

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Editor’s Note: Dogs in India are generally not fed packaged food. Instead, food is cooked for them. As you will notice from the photos, it is made mainly from rice with other ingredients and supplements added; it is very healthy.

Blue Cross of India runs a very active spay/neuter/anti-rabies program (please see below). It has paused during the lockdown, but it will resume just as soon as it is possible to do so.

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Photos: Velu TM

© Text and photos, Blue Cross of India, 2020 – published, with permission, by Forest Voices of India.

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Forest Voices of India
– conducts charitable fundraising services for environmental charities, especially in India.

How you can help

Blue Cross of India

– Is the first, the largest, and the most widely known of India’s modern-day animal shelters
– Blue Cross’s ambulance service rescues thousands of animals every year: dogs, cats, cows, pigeons, and others.
– Blue Cross’s spay/neuter/anti-rabies program for community dogs is the longest, continually running such program in the world, beginning in 1964; it has lowered the numbers of dog bites in Chennai and has dramatically reduced incidents of rabies there – for some years down to zero.

To help, click on Donate, and choose Blue Cross of India.

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