Ever since I was three years old, I found more comfort in four legged friends than in cartoons or stuffed toys. I remember waking up on Sunday mornings and heading down to a street food stall with my father to buy fresh jilipi, kochuri, and torkaari for breakfast and while we waited for everything to be packed, I would inevitably wander off to play with the stray dogs sleeping on the footpath, basking in the Sunday morning laziness that grips all of Kolkata on Bandh-Days and well, Sundays. These well-fed, healthy strays would often wag their tails and jump on me with two paws on my chest and chicken-breath in my face for their weekly dose of affection. I seemed to make them as happy as they would make me.
A few months later, we shifted out of that sleepy locality to the centre of the City of Joy where I met Avantika for the first time. Avantika was bit of a bully back then. She was way taller than I was, a tad bit bulkier, and she knew everything that children my age weren’t supposed to know. We would end up arguing over the silliest of things, fighting almost all the time, with me inevitably ending up in tears and running home to cry. But the only place where the two of us would agree would be when it came to rescuing injured sparrows, pigeons, and other animals and birds that would occasionally end up in our apartment complex. As the two of us grew up around each other, we realized that we had more in common than we thought. This belief only strengthened when we rescued our first four legged friend, an orange kitten named Garage in October 2011. She was in ninth grade and I was in the sixth, both of us had very little to do and would end up spending most of our free time playing with Garage together. We started sharing the responsibility of a brand new life, frequenting each other’s houses for supplies and to just hang out. We even built a house for the kitten with painted pieces of plywood.
Even after Garage disappeared, Avantika and I continued to be close friends, sharing our love for animals and other interests.
In the summer of 2013, we found a litter of pups in our locality, and Avantika found a few pups near her tuition centre. Before we knew it, the two of us were feeding these pups and taking care of them regularly. We contacted animal shelters across the city frantically every day with poor responses; unpleasant encounters over the phone became a regular thing. Eventually we lost two of the six pups we found, and that’s when we started shouldering the responsibility together. In October, locals started contacting us about other puppies and ailing dogs in the locality. Very soon we had multiple cases on our hands, very little knowledge, and no funding at all. So we decided to start a Facebook page for our rather informal organization where we would document our work on a regular basis, appeal for donations, and maintain complete transparency regarding our funds. What started out with only 300 likes on the page is now a 3,200+ follower strong page where everyday work on ground is documented regularly, information is shared with other welfare workers regarding their cases, and IADL has become a known abbreviation in the Animal Welfare fraternity. It’s A Dog’s Life- a small initiative by two schoolgirls evolved into one of the most visible animal welfare organizations in the city with barely any funding and an unimaginable number of cases.
Exactly a year later, our family of strays had become fifty strong with thirty puppies being born in the same month. Soon, sterilization and vaccination became a priority, with Avantika playing a key role in ensuring basic everyday-care for our dogs, nutrition, and accounting, while I started learning how to provide medical care to our strays, vaccinating, planning sterilization drives, coordinating with other organizations. Avantika and I have always made a good team because she has all the qualities that I lack and vice versa. She ensures that all is calm even under extreme pressure while I ensure that nothing comes in the way of our work. We supported each other through little wins and losses; I gave her a shoulder to cry on and so did she when I was buckling under the immense amount of responsibility that something of this magnitude brings.
After we completed a year, there was no looking back. Kolkata was opening up to us with newspapers wanting to help us with publicity by featuring us, student reporters writing about us, our friends pitching in, raising funds and sharing our work widely. All of these developments ensured a steady flow of funding for us, which would get exhausted within days of reaching us because of the sheer number of cases we would handle on a weekly basis. We gradually started expanding to other localities, assisting with vaccinations and sterilizations in different compounds, universities, slums, etc.
IADL went through a major shift when Avantika moved to Pune for college leaving me here alone to take care of our entire family. Through this struggle of working alone, the most supportive figure has been Nita Di- Avantika’s domestic help who goes shopping for us, cooks food for the dogs and feeds them on her own. Without her kindness and unending support, IADL would be nowhere.
Today my work in Calcutta with strays is not limited to just my pack, I work around the city assisting those who need help with their four legged friends while Avantika is starting a whole new branch of IADL in her own city, Pune, with a few cases, one rescue and a successful adoption done already.
We’re heading towards the completion of our second year on ground this October, doing the best we can despite living far apart, helping different people and different packs. With all the support from our parents, grandparents, donors, supporters, siblings, locals, and everyone who so much as decides to like our page, we’re sure that we have plenty of good times ahead and hundreds of animals to help.