Joshimath crisis: Pets and cattle displaced as owners navigate subsidence fallout

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Pets in Joshimath

An elderly man with cattle outside a damaged house in land subidence-hit Joshimath

Joshimath (Uttarakhand): As land sinks in Joshimath, buildings are razed and hundreds of families forced out of their homes, there is another tragedy playing out in this Himalayan town – many dogs, cattle and other domestic animals left untended as their owners navigate the life-changing crisis. Some animals have been left behind in houses, desolate and deserted as the cracks on their walls deepen, and some smaller pets have been crammed into shelter homes along with families forced into one room. The snow and the dipping temperatures have exacerbated the many woes.

The displacement is at many levels, say animal rights activists who have rushed to the once bustling town of Joshimath to keep the voiceless safe. “Any disaster is as much a crisis for animals as it is for humans,” said Rubina Iyer from People for Animals (PFA) Uttarakhand.

“We want to ensure the safety and welfare of the animals. People are taking care of humans, and we are here for the animals,” Iyer, who travelled from Dehradun to Joshimath along with her colleagues to help rescue affected animals, told PTI.

The mountain town, the gateway to trekking trails, pilgrimage destinations such as Badrinath and the famed ski slopes of Auli, has been on the edge since January 2 when the first major land subsidence event took place and hairline fissures in several places deepened into gaping breaks in walls and streets with a frightening rumble.

Families were segregated, and many pets and cattle neglected as people moved out to safety.

Neha Saklani, whose house in Sunil area on the way to Auli was heavily damaged during the subsidence event, said they have four pets.  “One of them is with us in the hotel, while the three others are at our house. But we check on them in the day and feed them,” she said.

Iyer said surveys are being carried out for a count of pets or stray animals and, if required, help with shifting them to shelter homes.

“If there are any pets and people don’t have space we can keep them safe.” So far, 200 dogs, 300 cattle, and 20 equines have been identified in surveys from the affected areas, said Shreya Paropkari from Humane Society International/India (HSI).

“All are doing well except for two injured mules being shifted to the Happy Home Sanctuary run by PFA Uttarakhand in Dehradun,” she told PTI “Our surveys found no abandoned pets in the affected areas. Wherever people are being shifted they are taking their pets along,” Paropkari said.

HSI also plans to sterilise dogs so there are no puppies born during this calamity as it will be difficult for them to survive.

“Based on the current assessment, they would all need surgery - when the weather is suitable. Currently, it’s snowing,” Paropkari added.

Chief Veterinary Officer, Chamoli, D. Pralayankar Nath said the Animal Husbandry Department here is taking all precautions and making necessary arrangements to shelter stray animals and pets.

“For cattle, we are making two shelters in Sunil ward and in Ravigram area. We are distributing compact feed and green fodder. Pets are being provided feed and the necessary help,” said Nath, who has been stationed in Joshimath since January 2. “We are taking help from the NGOs to identify any affected or abandoned pets so that we can shift them to shelters and take care of them,” he said.

In her three-day tour of Joshimath, Kaveri Rana Bhardwaj from Sophie Memorial Animal Relief Trust (S.M.A.R.T Sanctuary) has fed many street animals in Joshimath, Auli road, and the upper reaches.

A helpline number has been set up in case someone needs a home for their dogs, Bharadwaj said.

Sometimes, animals require urgent medical attention too.

The group, for instance, found a small local breed dog with a twisted leg that needed to be X-rayed. There are many stray dogs in Joshmath that can easily be mistaken for abandoned canines, Iyer said.

“We found equines and a lot of stray animals because sometimes if they are ill or become unproductive or for that matter are injured, people do sometimes abandon them in the streets to die,” said Iyer.

Iyer said since authorities are planning to rehabilitate displaced people, their pets will also be taken along with the owners to new locations.