I had an insightful conversation with Nikhil Shirdhankar. Nikhil is an architecture student who lives in Malad, Mumbai. He spends a great deal of time taking care of his animals (10 dogs and 25 cats). All of these have been rescued from the lonely streets of Malad. He now feeds at least 500 strays in Malad. He is actively spreading his work via social media platforms: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Whatsapp. Nikhil loves animals an awful lot. Take a look at his journey and the generous work he does.
You have been helping strays for ten years. When did you start rescuing and feeding them? What prompted you to do so?
It all started during childhood. Just after school, I would feed some puppies every day. I would watch them play happily and spend time with them. I remember seeing those tiny creatures inside trash cans and drainage lines, which made me wonder why they don’t have lives like us, and a place to stay as we do. I started feeding these animals on the streets ever since. At first, I wasn’t sure what food to provide them. I understood the dos and don’ts over the years. I would go to the vet and ask a hundred questions and use those notes later to give my dogs basic treatment. It started with just two dogs, and ten years down the line, I am now feeding almost 250 strays.
Since you are studying architecture, how do you manage all this work along with studies?
I have to maintain a balance between the two. I cannot be dependent on donations, so I have been working for architectural firms. I use that money to feed my animals and manage their medical expenses. I am an individual rescuer; it costs a lot for me to manage their expenses. In such cases, one needs to finish their studies and be independent. I divide my day equally so I can give studies and animals equal importance.
You have 10 dogs and 25 cats at home. How difficult is taking care of so many of them together?
It isn’t easy! I live in a one BHK room, and I have kept all of them here. It is not easy because I do not live in a proper society; it is a slum. There is a water crisis; we have sequences in which we fill the water, like just 20 minutes of water. And when it comes to animals, we need a lot of water to get things going. In the future, I want to build an animal shelter where I can keep lots of animals who need help.
How do you deal with deaths and health issues? How do you stay calm in stressful situations?
Getting all the work done and being calm goes hand in hand. I know that I need to be patient and work harder to provide my animals with everything they want in order to be protected. Our mind should be very active while rescuing; you should be able to use the first aid techniques. You cannot lose your calm under such circumstances.
From rescuing to vaccinating, you are doing everything single-handedly. Are you planning on building an animal shelter in the future?
Yes, I want to build an animal shelter. I want to buy land to start an animal hospital that is not there anywhere in India currently. We need a team of veterinary doctors and some workers who are animal lovers. So, I aim to have a perfect place for these animals.
Are the donations helping you enough?
No, they are not enough. I am trying to get more people into this for me to manage these expenses. During the pandemic, I have lost many donors due to unemployment. I have been trying to find more ways to manage my expenses. I need a group of people to manage everything; I need a team to make it easier.
The coronavirus pandemic was different for everyone. Tell me a little about your experience. What were the challenges you faced?
The pandemic was both good and bad. It was easier for me to feed the stray animals as everything was closed. Nobody could say anything to us regarding the place of feeding. We noticed a reduction in accidents as well. On the other hand, no space was available for dogs in hospitals. I rescued around 40 dogs during the pandemic, but I had to keep them all at home since the hospitals were overcrowded. However, most cruelty cases were recorded during the lockdown. From being burnt alive to rape, I came across many such cases during the pandemic. It breaks my heart to see all this; we must value every single creature on this planet.
Finally, what message do you want to pass on to the world?
I want everyone to stop hurting animals. We need to stop using inhumane methods to get rid of animals. They are not harmful; they only want you to shower them with love and compassion. It is a forever thing with animals. If you help them once, they will remember you forever. Don’t be cruel to animals. Be a friend to them, and the world will become a beautiful place.