“I was only in grade six when I found some kids beating a stray cat. The cat was nearly dead but I managed to come to its aid just in time, remembers Dipanwita Ridi. The experience made an impression on her, setting her down a path of a lifetime of caring for animals. She would go on to conduct more rescues, and two of these salvaged creatures, a pair of local breed dogs, still live with her.
After briefly volunteering with leading animal rights organisation Obhoyaronno, Ridi opened up an animal rescue shelter called Animal Lovers of Bangladesh (ALB), which remains among a handful of others advocating for animal rights through their awareness and rehabilitation activities in response to the increasing violence against animals.
Consequentially, she has been running the safe house out of a compound with two duplex structures in Naraynganj since 2000. Although the foundation was only enlisted in 2014, it is one of the few shelters in the country that is dedicated to restoring stray felines and canines, helping them find suitable homes for over seven years now.
It would be fair to say that this is unusual in a country not known for a great track record in respecting animal rights. Bangladesh police made its first arrest for animal abuse on July 2015, after two dogs and fourteen puppies were buried alive in Rampura. A number of serious concerns have been raised over the ongoing animal cruelty in Bangladesh.
At ALB, the picture is vastly different. Contrary to popular stereotypes about inter-species conflict, both cats and dogs currently reside rather peacefully within the compounds. When Dhaka Tribune made a visit to the shelter, the founder was pacing about on the first floor, which is reserved for the cats. As she moved, the cats followed her, mewing for attention, attempting to climb her. One even went for a bite out of the bread she was having for breakfast. Smiling, Ridi allowed the hungry creature a taste.
When asked about her challenges, Dipa admitted that initially her mother didn’t support her cause, but later provided her with the compound to help Dipanwita run the shelter. She added that had it not been for her father’s financial support and active involvement, she would not have been able to do what she does.
At present the shelter has grown enough to employ paid staff. The caretaker, cleaner, cook, and Dipanwita herself manage the 1.25 acre land houses two facilities; one is especially assigned for nursing injured, malnourished cats while the other is a home for dogs.
All animals at the shelter are sterilised and vaccinated and their daily diet consumes up to 3Kg of rice, fish, mix of chicken liver and heart each, along with 49Kg of special cat food. The last count at the shelter showed that it is home to 53 cats and 10 dogs that have been rescued from various parts of the neighbourhood.
One of ALB’s aims is to: “promote local breeds among pet lovers”, who are often found buying foreign breeds from the kennels and pet shops in Katabon.
Dipanwita feels animal lovers should opt to adopt “local breeds that are neglected and in most cases die on the streets. People spend a lot of money on foreign breeds while local cats and dogs starve on the streets. This should not happen” asserts Ridi.
“It’s been few years that government declared dog culling is illegal. It is scary how people mercilessly kill these animals. Just a few months ago a local killed a dog and her pups in Hatirjheel. An autopsy was done on the animals for the first time in Bangladesh’s history. Sadly, the maximum punishment is a mere three months’ incarceration and a fine of TK300. This law is based on an archaic British system from 1920.”
“Without implementation of any strong laws, it’s not possible to stop cruelty against stray animals. And there is a blame game goes on among people and authority in these issues,” adds Ridi.
Earlier in 2017, the cabinet proposed a draft called Animal Welfare Act. The aim of this draft was to prevent cruelty towards animals and ensure responsibility for their welfare.
The draft proposes a maximum of two-year imprisonment and a fine of Tk50,000 for killing an animal, with a six month incarcerated period and Tk10,000 fine for neglecting the health of animals such as bulls and cows that are used to plough fields.
It should be noted there are only five registered animal shelters in all of Bangladesh.But with cooperation from all stakeholders, the numbers can go higher, granting many helpless creatures a second life.