The Blue Cross of India is a society that aims to alleviate the suffering of animals in India. Established by Captain Sundaram in 1959, in Chennai (then Madras), the society was formally registered in 1964 under the Societies Registration Act. It is now one of the country's largest animal welfare organisations. It runs several animal welfare programs including animal rights awareness.
The non-medical division of the organisation is looked after by volunteers. The organisation has received several national and international awards in its forty year history.
On July 27, 1994, thirty years after the organisation's founding, it received the gift of four acres of land and a donation of Rs. 25 lakhs to its corpus. The fixed deposit receipt and the Government Order for the allotment of the land at Velachery were handed over to Capt. V. Sundaram, Founder and Mr. C. R. Pattabhi Raman, Chairman of the Blue Cross at a meeting at the Chief minister’s office at Fort St. George.
The Captain Sundaram Animal Centre was inaugurated in 1997. Situated at Guindy, the new centre has provision to house 200 large animals and 200 dogs, besides a cat shelter and a large aviary. The Konica Adoption Centre for puppies and kittens, donated by Mr.J.P.Acharya of Nippon Enterprises South, was also inaugurated on November 30, 1997.
This hospital treats over 20,000 outpatients per year and shelters over 800 animals at any time. Since January 15, 1998, all the animal birth control (ABC) operations for street dogs of Chennai have been carried out here.
The Blue Cross of India was established in 1959 and registered as a Society under the Societies Registration Act in 1964 to alleviate the suffering of animals. It has grown from small beginnings to become one of India's largest animal welfare organizations, running active animal welfare, animal rights and humane education programmes.
To ensure that all monies received by the Society are used primarily for animal welfare activities, the administration and non-medical activities of the Blue Cross of India are almost entirely looked after by members who donate their time and expertise on a purely honorary basis.
The work of the Blue Cross has received national and international recognition. Its Office Bearers have served on many State and Central Government Committees over the last forty years.
Captain V. Sundaram was a member of the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) in the nineteen sixties and again in the eighties. His work was recognized by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals as early as 1963 when he was awarded their Queen Victoria Medal. In 1964, he was awarded the Madras SPCA's Silver Medal and in 1991, the Watumall Foundation of Hawaii bestowed their award for his animal welfare activities. The Mylapore Academy and many others honoured him. The Government of India conferred their Prani Mitra award on him in 1997.
Dr. S. Chinny Krishna was a member of the AWBI from 1994 to 1997 and in 2001 he was made the Vice Chairman of the AWBI. In the same year, he was awarded the Jeev Daya Puraskar by the Government of India. In 2002, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Venu Menon Animal Allies Foundation from the Vice President of India, Mr. Krishna Kant. From 1996 to 2002, Dr. Krishna served as a member of the Central Government's Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals and as Chairman of several of its sub-committees. Several Lions and Rotary Clubs have recognized his work for animals as has the International Governor of Lions Clubs International who recognized his work for animals in 1987. He was the first District Chairman for Animal Welfare in the seventy-year history of Lionism when Lion S. T. Vanchinathan was the District Governor of Lions District 324.
Governing Body members have served on the Central Zoo Authority and on Mr. Sam Pitroda's Street Dog Mission appointed by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and on State Animal Welfare Boards.
The AWBI granted recognition in 1966. The Blue Cross is affiliated to the RSPCA and WSPA.
Captain Sundaram Founder of the Blue Cross of India
It all started one rainy day in 1959 when Captain Sundaram couldn't just walk away from the two pups struggling to stay afloat in the flooded roads of T Nagar. He took them home-and that gesture marked the beginning of Blue Cross, the animal shelter in his house which at one stage had 60 cats, dogs, goats, bandicoots and also a pair of baby mongooses!
Captain Sundaram, born on April 22nd, 1916,had always wanted to care for animals. In his own words, "God had given me so much that I thought I ought to do something in return. There are so many charitable institutions for human beings, but so few for animals. "With full fledged support from his family (his wife Usha and the children built the first few kennels with their own hands), he was soon rescuing and sheltering animals in his T Nagar residence till 1968,when Blue Cross was shifted to its own premises at Adyar.
Captain Sundaram started his career as a pilot, and was an instructor at the Madras Flying Club. After training in England he returned to India and trained British and American pilots during the war before joining Tata Airlines in 1945.During his tenure as the Mysore Maharaja's pilot with his wife Usha as his co-pilot, he had the privilege of flying Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhai Patel from 1945 to 1951.He enjoyed an accident free flying record in his 35 yrs as a pilot. He and Usha set a world record for flying a De Havilland Dove from London to Madras in 27hrs.This record for piston-engined aircraft remains unbroken till today.
It was a well known fact amongst the pilots that Captain Sundaram would keep circling around till the stray animals were cleared off the runway. He once saw a magnificent cobra in his path as he was taxiing for takeoff and rather than run over it, he hopped across, whizzed just a few cms. above its hood and continued on his way. This incident made headlines the next day!
As a staunch crusader against cruelty to animals, he has been instrumental in stopping several animal sacrifices, including a horse sacrifice in Colombo in Jan 1986 and one in Harihar in May 1986. He also organized many seminars against vivisection, cruel and crude methods of killing animals and has strived to spread awareness on animal welfare. He was a member of the Executive committee of the Animal Welfare Board of India till the end of 1987.
In recognition of his tireless efforts in championing the cause of animals, he won the Queen Victoria Medal from the RSPCA in 1964, the Watamull Foundation Award from the USA in 1987, Silver medals from the Madras SPCA and the Mylapore Academy, a Distinguished Service Award from the Rotary club of South Madras and was posthumously awarded the Prani Mitra Award recently by Shri Krishan Kant, Vice President of India.
Captain Sundaram insisted on free treatment for all animals so that none of them would be denied medication due to lack of money. He dipped into his own reserves during the early days of running the shelter, using his car as the first ambulance by fixing a cage on top and always rushed to the rescue of injured animals, even in the middle of the night or at the other end of the city. It is only apt that Blue Cross today stands as the largest animal shelter in India, as well as Asia, symbolizing the love and care that he showed towards these voiceless animals.
With his passing away on the 31st of May 1997, his four legged friends suffer an irreparable loss of a true lover and saviour of animals. But the legacy of love and compassion towards animals that Captain Sundaram left behind will go on for ever.
Dr.Dog, the animal therapy program initiated in 2002 is going on in full swing and other schools for special children are approaching us to work the magic wand with their wards too.We welcome our new entrants to the program, Sankalp in Annanagar and V Excel from R A Puram. They started right away with four dogs a month and have reported good results for the short time that they've been into it. Apart from the retrievers-as in golden and labradors, we now have terriers, basset hounds and border collies also in our fold. Two new mongrels are waiting in the wings for their turn to join Dr. Jumble.
Aikya in R A Puram decided to adopt a mongrel from Blue Cross and now they have their very own school dog, an adorable multi colored bundle of fun, available for the school children throughout their working hours. The school dog concept is something which will yield better results in the long run since children can snatch private moments with the dog anytime they choose to, instead of waiting for their turn.
A pleasant surprise came from the YRG Care Center run by Dr. Suniti Solomon inside the Taramani VHS compound. We started the program circa July'03 with one dog, Dr Lara. What was meant for the patients recovering from Aids turned out to be a double blessing in that the staff find it extremely relaxing and rejuvenating to be with the Dr. Dog. We had not taken into account that the attending staff are also going through a lot of stress while taking care of the patients and playing with the retriever or just having it around in the rooms has had a very soothing effect on one and all.
Now, Dogs say "heal" !
Dogs make delightful pets, as we all know. But, did we know that pet dogs are now doubling up as therapy animals?! Welcome to Dr. Dog, an animal therapy program mooted for the first time in India jointly by the Blue Cross of India with the AAF (Animals Asia Foundation of Hong Kong).
Animal therapy is very popular abroad, a tried and tested theory that people and patients do benefit through sustained interaction with animals. Generally dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, dolphins and fish are the commonly chosen animals involved in this program. To begin with, we have started with dogs in India. Even though, dogs and other pets have been taken to schools and hospitals on a sporadic basis throughout our country, more so inadvertently, this is the first time, a formal program is being launched on a sustained basis with regular monitoring of the progress made.
So, what is Dr. Dog and what does it do? Regular visits to schools for children with learning disabilities (autistic / dyslexic children benefit the most) or to hospitals ,show a marked improvement ,over a period of time, in the children's communication and concentration levels and makes the patients forget their pain while the pet is around. All the dog has to do is just be around. No fancy tricks or special skills are needed. The dog instinctively takes to the children and can be extremely gentle with the patients.
When Dr. Chinny Krishna- the Chairman of Blue Cross- was attending an AAF conference in Hong Kong, and heard about Dr. Dog, he immediately resolved to extend it to India too. With the AAF representatives. Ms. Jill Robinson and Ms. Winnie Luk, visiting us in April this year, Dr. Dog was formally launched at the CPR foundation in Chennai, the first city to start the program. Blue Cross had brought over 25 volunteers with their friendly pets and the AAF reps assessed each and every dog to ascertain their temperament and certify them as Dr. Dogs. The tests are done to ensure that at no point of time will the child or the animal be exposed to stressful situations. 10 schools, spread over all parts of the city, also participated in the launch and slide shows followed by an interactive session, explained the concept to the teachers, how it works elsewhere and how the children stand to benefit from the program.
In June, the first visit was to the ESK learning center in South Chennai, with Dr. Bozo, a lovely 2 yr old Labrador, accompanied by his companion, Ms. Shruthi, and at the end of one hour, the children were begging Bozo to stay on or come the next day! Visits are scheduled only once a month, to avoid stress for the animal and the companion must always accompany the dog on all visits to ensure that he feels comfortable. Also, the same dog visits the same school for at least 6 months to build up a rapport with the children and vice versa. Volunteers are also scheduled the schools in and around their neighborhood to make it convenient for them to continue the program, long term. But looking at the enthusiasm and gusto with which the children welcome the dog, we plan to have weekly visits , done by more volunteers to the same school. We have completed two visits, as of today, to all the schools taking part in the program and the response has been overwhelming, to say the least. The teachers as well as the volunteers will monitor the progress and based on the reports ,we may introduce variations so as to make optimum use of the program. Later, we plan to include old age homes, orphanages and regular schools so that they can enjoy the company of a loving pet animal. The ideal situation is to have a pet at home but since it is not practical or viable for everyone, Blue Cross has chipped in to make it possible for them to experience the love and joy , a pet animal can bring into their lives.
Has the ABC* programme been a success in India?
Dr. S. Chinny Krishna, Chairman - Blue Cross of India
In 1964, appalled by the horrific way the Corporation of Madras was killing street dogs, the Blue Cross of India began to study this issue. We were surprised to learn that the Madras Corporation at 300 years - one of the oldest municipalities in the world, started its catch-and-kill programme in 1860. Dogs regarding which complaints were received were often shot on the street. The complaints were generally about dogs which bit and therefore, suspected to be rabid. Section 218 of The Madras City Municipal Corporation Act of 1919 authorised the catching and killing of those dogs on the street which did not have a licence tag. From killing about 100 dogs per year by 1860, the Corporation was killing over 16,000 per year by 1964.
The Blue Cross was convinced that if a procedure designed to control or eliminate street dogs had not showed positive results after implementing it for over a 100 years, something was wrong. It was also convinced that where a dog had to be killed because it was overly aggressive or suspected to be rabid, the killing can be done in a more humane manner.
It was in 1964 that the Blue Cross proposed a more humane and viable solution to prevent the visible increase in the number of street dogs and the number of cases of human rabies. It proposed to do this by a sustained catch-and-neuter programme coupled with vaccination against rabies. It decided to call the programme the Animal Birth Control programme or the ABC programme - to signify that the control of the street dog population was as easy as ABC.
As could be expected, the Madras Corporation’s response was to reject the proposal, outright. The Blue Cross kept up the pressure on the Corporation and began to spay/neuter all street dogs rescued by it. After treatment, the dog would be spayed, vaccinated, and released at the same spot from where it had been picked up. Owners were also encouraged to have their pets spayed and vaccinated, free of charge. A few hundred operations were done each year but the number of street dogs showed no signs of coming down.
After a few years, we realised that each area had its “holding capacity” for street dogs and this was determined by the availability of food sources. In most cases, this source was a garbage dump and many of the dogs around these places were emaciated and mangy. In the meantime, from an average of less than one dog killed per day in 1860, the number of dogs killed by the Corporation had gone up to 30,000 per year in 1995, and had increased to as high as 135 dogs per day in 1995.
In 1990, WSPA and WHO brought out their “Guidelines for Dog Population Management” followed by WSPA’s guidelines for “Stray Dog Control”. The report, authored by Dr. K. Bogel, Chief Veterinarian, Public Health Unit of the WHO in Switzerland, and John Hoyt, says: “All too often, authorities confronted with the problems caused by these dogs have turned to mass destruction in the hope of finding a quick solution, only to discover that the destruction had to continue, year after year with no end in sight”. Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. The age-old method of catch-and-kill has not worked and never will.
It was in 1995 that the Blue Cross was finally able to get the Corporation of Madras to agree to try out ABC as an alternative to killing, in a part of South Madras. We realised that a city-wide ABC programme would have been the ideal solution but the Corporation Commissioner, Mr. M. Abul Hassan, asked us to start the programme and then increase its scope. The only assurance he gave us was that he would personally monitor the programme and that no dog which had been spayed and vaccinated would be caught. Dogs in the area not covered by the ABC programme would continue to be caught and killed by electrocution. The total cost of the programme was to be met by the Blue Cross. Realising that funding the programme would be difficult for the Blue Cross on its own, we tried to get WSPA to fund it. Mr. John Joseph of WSPA came to Madras and held detailed discussions with us but finally decided to fund Help In Suffering (HIS) in Jaipur.
Chennai and Jaipur were the first cities to start sustained ABC-AR programmes. Within six months, in areas covered by the Blue Cross ABC programme, promising results started showing. This prompted the Corporation to extend the programme to the whole of South Madras. By a stroke of luck, Mr. Abul Hassan became the Special Officer - equal to the Mayor of the Corporation. People for Animals agreed to take up ABC in North Madras and the Corporation converted its electrocution chamber to an ABC centre.
Several cities have taken up ABC but in many cases it has not been a sustained programme. In many places where the ABC programme was being implemented, local municipalities suddenly ordered the destruction of dogs on a massive scale in a knee-jerk reaction to complaints. The dogs destroyed were usually the ones that had been spayed and vaccinated at great expense and effort.
The purpose of the ABC programme is to bring down the number of street dogs in a humane manner and, more importantly, to bring down the number of cases of rabies. To see whether this has been a success, let us look at the cases of human rabies in three places where the ABC-AR programme has been implemented.
When considering these results, the following must be kept in mind:
We find a steady decrease in human rabies cases in those places where an [ABC-AR programme]http://www.arfindia.org/download/SDPM_Data.ppt#256,1,ABC is being carried out. In Jaipur, the cases of rabies from the walled city where HIS is carrying out the spay and vaccinate programme is zero for the third consecutive year.
In Kalimpong where the programme has been carried out by an HIS associate, there has been no reported case for the last 21 months. In the case of Kalimpong, the anti-rabies programme has been much more wide spread than the ABC programme.
While the above figures should be able to convince anybody about the viability of the ABC programme, more clinching evidence is provided by the results of the WHO-sponsored multi-centric study of rabies in India for the period 1992 to 2002. The results were released in a draft form in July 2003 and will be released by the WHO in Bangkok later this year. These results will form part of the WHO's 2004 report on the world wide studies of rabies. The findings pointed towards the fact that the number of cases of animal bites and human rabies in 2002 were 17.4 million and 17,371 respectively and, most relevant to us, almost constant over the ten year period. Yet, official statistics from cities where the ABC programme has been implemented, clearly show a reduction in the cases of both dog bites and human rabies in these areas. The conclusion is clear: ABC is amazingly effective in achieving what was desired - a sharp and dramatic reduction in both cases of dog bites and human rabies.
Equally important is the public perception of ABC’s effectiveness.
In Chennai, Mr. M. P. Vijayakumar, IAS, took over in May as the new Commissioner of the Corporation. On May 19, he held a public meeting to interact with the citizens of Chennai on ways to develop the city. Many problem areas were mentioned including water scarcity, pig menace, noise pollution by autorickshaws, improper garbage clearance, park maintenance, encroachments, unauthorised constructions, and ineffective response from helpline services. No mention of dogs came up because there is no dog problem. This is further borne out by an article in The Hindu of June 10, 2003 about various steps to beautify Chennai. Again, there was no mention of any dog problem. Coupled with improved garbage clearance, the situation will improve in the days to come.
Most of you are professionals in the animal care field. As community leaders and dedicated professionals, we must realise that the world has changed beyond belief in the last century. Where new evidence compels us to re-evaluate our method of doing things, we must do so in an open spirit of being willing to change, if necessary. I had mentioned at the start that over a hundred years of catch-and-kill has not worked in either controlling the street dog population or the incidence of rabies - not in India nor anywhere else. These goals are achievable, however, if we work together to implement viable and bold new strategies, and interventions that get results.
The WHO at its Fourth International Symposium on Rabies Control in Asia stated: “Elimination of rabies in humans requires control of rabies in dogs”. Dr. F. X. Meslin of the Communicable Diseases Surveillance Department of WHO avers: “Rabies elimination by vaccination of the dog population is the most cost-beneficial strategy”. It has also been repeatedly stressed that once we reach the threshold figure of 70% of a dog population being vaccinated, the propagation of rabies is virtually halted. 70% is also the figure at which stage ABC reaches its “critical mass”. An aggressive ABC-AR not only will reduce rabies steeply, it will also reduce the number of street dogs. Combined with an effective garbage control system, results will be dramatically visible. A safe oral anti-rabies vaccine will certainly be available in the next few years and if an affordable safe chemo-sterilant becomes a reality, the situation will be breathtakingly simplified.