It’s that time of the year when Mumbai’s streets are surrendered to jarring music and fanfare, in the name of “celebrating” the Ganpati festival. So, when the city-dwellers were invited to an entirely different kind of street celebration taking place in a hamlet in Mumbai's Malad, the enthusiasm was unparalleled. After all, a little girl had chosen to celebrate her 12th birthday with 1,200 stray dogs, and the whole city was asked to join in the fun!
The girl and her family contacted Animals Matter To Me(AMTM), a Mumbai-based animal-welfare NGO, when the girl told her parents that she did not want to throw a blowout party for her friends, and instead, wanted to do something for animals. “The little girl is from a Gujarati family, and she did not want to spend money on lavish cake-cutting and on inviting friends and rather spend on feeding stray dogs in streets of Mumbai,” says Ganesh Nayak, the founder of the NGO. The family doesn’t want to divulge their identity, as they do not care much for publicity.
The NGO, a sprawling 18,000-foot property that rescues, houses and nurtures 15O dogs in its own centre, helped the family identify nearly 1,100 other stray dogs in the area around Marve and Aqsa, to put together a day of furry madness. The Animals Matter to Me Facebook page, which has nearly two lakh likes on its Facebook page, then created an event that saw nearly 800 confirmations, of which a staggering 263 volunteers showed up, taking off from work and college and braving Mumbai's irksome traffic situation on a prime day of the Ganpati festival, to partake in this one-of-a-kind birthday party.
The group, largely consisting of volunteers, bloggers, and animal lovers, assembled at 11 am, to help the NGO and the family prepare the tail-waggers’ favourite food, which was also loaded with nutrients – a nutritious porridge that was a favourite amongst AMTM’s residents. Once the feast was prepared, the army of well-wishers was ready to greet the special guests, as they excitedly waited with wagging tails for their treats. By 6:30 pm, nearly 1,240 dogs were fed, fluffed and pampered.
“Her goal was to enrich every Mumbaikar's mind to be humane and sympathetic towards all living things - be it a stray dog or a pigeon. So, on this birthday, she was feeling out-of-this-world as she had done something very special for these speechless souls,” says Ganesh.
The NGO, which has been in existence for over five years, has fed over 49,000 strays so far. 39-year-old Ganesh, a B.Com and event-management graduate, had initially started the organisation to cater to all the needs of the strays. “Noticing the plight of stray and abandoned animals and being sensitised towards their pain right from childhood initiated the dream in me of starting an NGO for their help and care someday,” says Ganesh, who also runs another business.
Since it came into existence, AMTM has held several programmes under its banner like ‘Trap, Neuter and Spay (that is sterilisation), feeding programmes, vaccination drives, and a critical care centre that help strays and abandoned breeds irrespective of their size. The strays are tagged with illuminated collars to identify them for the van with the neutering equipment.
They collect donations from private individuals, and even collaborate with corporates with a budget for CSR to fund their activities. Ganesh feels that people are more sensitised these days, and are more empathetic towards all forms of life. In fact, following the example, yet another couple has decided to feed a 1,000 strays on their anniversary this month – which is a very reassuring trend for sure. After all, if this chain reaction of kindness and empathy keeps advancing, you never know - we might even lose our spot as the most destructive species and foster an ecosystem that can be home to all forms of life.