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.”


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.


Photos: Velu TM

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


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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.

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